A central Newfoundland man is facing charges after shooting a polar bear to death near Coachman's Cove in April.

Terry Fitzgerald killed the animal with one shot as it ambled toward his community on the Baie Verte Peninsula.

Now he's facing three charges: firing a rifle too close to a home; shooting a polar bear out of season; and shooting a bear without a licence.

Fitzgerald defended his decision to kill the bear, saying he believed he was protecting his children.

"We were just after getting our kids ready for school," he said. "The kids went out waiting for the school bus, and I went out on the back deck. I saw a polar bear coming out of the salt water. From there, I just took off. I went to my father’s house and grabbed a rifle and went to shoot it."

He believes the charges are unfair, arguing that no one else was charged for killing any of the other bears that were shot when they came ashore in Newfoundland and Labrador this year.

"A wildlife officer shot one, and a police officer, and neither of them were charged," he said.

Fitzgerald is scheduled to appear in court in late June.

Several bears were seen in Newfoundland and Labrador communities this past winter. Four of the animals were shot dead — the one Fitzgerald shot, one in near St. Anthony, one in Greenspond and  another in St. Lewis, Labrador.

There were reports of polar bears in other parts of the province where sea ice drifted near shore this spring.

Bears travel on the pack ice that moves close to coastal areas depending on the direction of winds. The large mammals hunt for seals on the ice and sometimes come ashore.

Wildlife officials say anyone who encounters a polar bear should:

  • Remain calm.
  • Give the bear(s) space.
  • Back away, get out of the situation, never run.
  • If you must speak, do so calmly and firmly.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the bear(s).

Last November, the federal government classified polar bears a species of special concern — one level below "threatened" and two levels below "endangered" — under the Species at Risk Act.

The "species of special concern" classification requires that a plan must be devised within three years to prevent the species from becoming endangered or threatened.

Ottawa's move comes almost three years after the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an arm's-length scientific advisory body, recommended the special-concern listing for the polar bear.

The United States listed the polar bear as a threatened species in 2008, citing shrinking sea ice due to climate change.

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This polar bear was spotted near Greenspond, central Newfoundland, on April 3, but was later shot to death in the interests of public safety. It was one of four bears killed in the province this year. (Submitted by Jason Tong)