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$13K fine for killing grizzly deemed 'scandalous' by conservationists

'The grizzly bear in Alberta is a threatened species,' says group that had hoped for higher fine

Grizzly bear

A collared grizzly bear that was being tracked for research by officials in Jasper National Park was killed by a hunter. (Government of Yukon)

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 An Alberta man charged with killing a collared grizzly bear that was being tracked for research will pay nearly $13,000 in fines, but some say that's not enough to protect the threatened species.

Ronald Raymond Motkoski pleaded guilty earlier this month in an Edson, Alta., courtroom to possession of wildlife and was fined $2,500. He's also required to pay $5,000 to Alberta's BearSmart program and $5,202.76 for the cost of the tracking collar.

Neither he nor his lawyer could be reached for comment this week.

Motkoski was charged in June 2016 after Fish and Wildlife officers were notified by fRI Research that a collar put on grizzly bear No. 141 in Jasper National Park had stopped working near Edson, about 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.

It was determined the three-year-old male grizzly had been shot and killed.

Motkoski told researchers he shot the bear

The Crown prosecutor withdrew a charge of hunting wildlife in a closed season and providing a false or misleading statement. A spokesperson for the province said the charges were withdrawn because some of the evidence did not suggest a reasonable likelihood of conviction.

Another man, John Peter Grant of Fort McMurray, Alta., pleaded guilty on Feb. 2 to unlawful possession of wildlife related to the death of the same bear and was fined a total of $6,000.

Critics say the fines are too low.

"It's absolutely scandalous," said Jill Seaton, chair of the Jasper Environmental Association. "The grizzly bear in Alberta is a threatened species."

Gordon Stenhouse, a scientist with the fRI Research grizzly bear program, said he also had higher expectations.

"I thought there would be a different outcome," he said, noting the maximum fine is $100,000.

A threatened species 

Grizzly bears were listed as threatened in Alberta in 2010 when it was determined there were only about 700 left. A recovery strategy was introduced aimed at reducing conflicts between bears and people.

Poaching remains a problem in Alberta, with statistics showing at least 39 grizzly bears have been killed illegally since a legal hunt ended in 2005.

Bear No. 141 was considered important because he was fitted with a GPS collar in Jasper and left the park within a few weeks.

"It's quite rare that a bear in Jasper takes off," said Stenhouse.

Officials with Jasper National Park declined to comment.

Stenhouse said that valuable research was lost with the death of the bear.

No. 141 "was one of a very few bears that we have seen make long-distance movements from Jasper National Park over the past 18 years of research in this area," he said in an impact statement prepared for court.

"The movements and habitat use of this bear were of significant interest to us in learning more about home range establishment and response to human activities."

'An unfortunate loss'

Despite getting about $5,000 to replace the bear's tracking collar, he said it's also a financial hit for the program.

"This is an unfortunate loss and does not address any of our time, effort or cost that our research team invested in the successful capture of this bear," he said.

Losing even one bear hurts the province's recovery plan, he said.

"From a broader perspective, the key issue is on the common and ongoing problem of the illegal killing of bears," said Stenhouse. "Some members of the public appear to remain unwilling to share a common landscape and co-exist with this species."

Should those attitudes continue, he said it's unlikely that future generations will see grizzly bears anywhere other than the most remote areas of the national parks.

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