The strange tale of some B.C. black bears that were caught guarding a marijuana grow-op has gotten stranger, after someone stole the confiscated pot from the RCMP and tried to protect it with a stash of stolen dynamite.
The story began about three weeks ago, when police raided a grow-op near the southern Interior town of Christina Lake. On the property, they found about 1,000 marijuana plants and about a dozen friendly black bears.
Police suspect the operators of the grow-op had been feeding the bears dog food in order to get them to hang around and guard the grow-op. Police confiscated the marijuana and took it to a police locker in nearby Grand Forks to hold as evidence.
A few days later, however, they received what turned out to be a fake emergency call, and while they were out responding, someone broke into the locker and stole the pot, according to Sgt. Jim Harrison.
Search turns up pot, explosives
On Thursday, RCMP obtained a search warrant for a nearby property in Greenwood, where they found a stash of about 10 kilograms of marijuana stolen from the lockup, including a small amount from the Christina Lake bust.
The officers also found a grenade, a loaded 12-gauge shotgun, and two loaded rifles.
Of even greater concern to police was the stash of about 19 sticks of dynamite they found rigged with homemade fuses, according to Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.
"The suspects had actually taped a bundle of 15 sticks together with a homemade-style fuse," he said. "Two sticks were wrapped together with a homemade fuse, and a third bundle of two sticks of dynamite as well were located."
The house, located in the 100 block of South Gold Avenue, was also protected with a surveillance system that broadcast a live view of the front gate onto a 36-inch television inside the home.
James Douglas, 35, was arrested at the house and charged with various offences, including unlawful possession of explosives and possession of stolen property.
Police suspect the dynamite might have come from an abandoned mine in the area. The RCMP's explosive disposal unit was called in from Vancouver to detonate the dynamite safely.
Police are still looking for two other suspects in the case, but Harrison said the alleged thieves have no connection to the original grow-op in Christina Lake.
Pressure mounts to save bears
Meanwhile, public pressure is mounting for the government to save the black bears discovered at the Christina Lake grow-op.
Originally conservation officers had said the bears would likely have to be destroyed because they were so habituated to humans.
An online petition calling for the bears to be protected, started by an Edmonton woman, has already collected more than 2500 signatures.
B.C.'s Environment Minister Barry Penner says the government is now looking at a few options to save the bears.
"We are hoping the bears will move off and disperse on their own. If they don't, we're willing to try and encourage them to do that," said Penner.
"Another option would be forced relocation with trapping and then taking them in a cage and then releasing them somewhere," he said.
Penner admitted that if these relocation efforts fail, it may be necessary for conservation officers to kill the bears.
He also said charges under the Wildlife Act are being considered against the woman who ran the grow-op and was feeding the bears. Those who know her say she loved the bears like they were her children.