As It Happens

'The most difficult week of my career': Conservation officer kills 9 bears

A B.C. conservation officer says Revelstoke residents' carelessness with their food and trash led to the euthanization of nine bears there last week. Guest host Laura Lynch interviews Dan Bartol.
People are dealing with more bear sightings on Vancouver Island. Conservation officers say it's likely due to the late berry season. (Bill Roth/AP)

Conservation officers euthanized nine black bears last week in Revelstoke, B.C.  It's not unusual to see the animals passing through the municipality east of Kamloops. But in recent weeks, they haven't been leaving. They're attracted by garbage cans and fruit trees, and apparently unafraid of the city's residents. The killing of the bears has led to protests in the B.C. community, who are asking for a more comprehensive garbage policy when it comes to bears.

As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch reached conservation officer Dan Bartol in Revelstoke. Here is part of their conversation: 

Laura Lynch: Mr. Bartol, how many of these bears did you personally have to euthanize?

Dan Bartol: I personally euthanized six but I assisted in the euthanization of all nine.

Conservation officers euthanized nine black bears last week that had come into Revelstoke looking for food. (CBC)

LL: Nine in total over the past week. And I'm pretty sure euthanizing bears isn't why you became a conservation officer. What has it been like for you and your colleagues?

DB: It's been extremely frustrating. You're right, it's not easy, it's probably the most difficult thing we do in our jobs. You know we got into this job to protect the resources, to protect the wildlife and sometimes we are put in a position where we don't have any alternative. For human safety, it takes precedence, and we unfortunately, from time to time, we have to destroy parts of the resource.

File: A black bear rests in a backyard. Nine bears have been euthanized in the B.C. community of Revelstoke in the past week. (Theodore L. Hatch/AP)

The frustrations made far more so because it's avoidable. It doesn't have to happen. And when we're put in this position, we don't have any alternatives. Yeah, frustrating is an understatement.

LL: Have you ever experienced a problem like this in Revelstoke before?

DB: It's not entirely uncommon for bears to become habituated and food conditioned, but you expect one to a few throughout an entire season. But to have nine in just a few days ... yeah, that's completely unprecedented. I've
worked for other jurisdictions including the province of Alberta, the province of Ontario and Parks Canada for a
number of years and I've never experienced this volume or extent of food habituation (with bears).

Dan Bartol says this has been the toughest week of his career (CBC)

LL: Why do you think things have become so bad?

DB: There's not a single factor contributing to all this, it's a number of factors. But overwhelmingly the common theme is that bears are having easy access to human and unnatural attractants — things that they should not be eating but can very easily consume and become food conditioned.

LL: How can you be sure that these bears are a threat to public safety when what they're really going after is garbage?

DB: Historically, when there's been a human/wildlife conflict, a human injured or killed, overwhelmingly most of
the time it's been by a bear that we can prove is a food condition bear. I mean, it happened in Port Coquitlam just
a few weeks ago to a 10-year-old child. The parallel is unarguable. It's not an opinion — it's a fact: when bears get to that level of habituation and start seeing food and garbage as their food, humans are at risk.

LL: Why isn't tranquilizing and relocating the bears an option?

DB: Translocating a bear is rarely effective. A bear that's a real problem is likely going to try to return to its original food source. A great majority of time they try and they're either successful and they continue to be a problem or they get hit on the road and possibly cause a motor vehicle collision, again putting someone at risk.

They might displace a well behaving better in their new community or they'll continue to re-offend a new community. So
moving the problem is a very reactive and unsuccessful solution if you continue to have the attractant out there, you're going to continue to have a problem. And if I move one bear out of town and the attractant stays, another bear's going to move in ... and another and another. I think the focus really has to be on solving the problem, not just reactively dealing with individual bears.

LL: I can just hear the frustration and weariness in your voice.

DB: This has been a most difficult week of my career.

LL: Because?

DB: Like I say, I'm put into a position where I have no choice but to euthanize bears. It's the most difficult thing
I have to do. And if there was no solution, there was no way to avoid it, I could understand. But when the alternative is so clear, when we have so many means. We're not asking the community of Revelstoke to reinvent the wheel. We know what the options are. 

This doesn't happen in places like Canmore and in Banff and in Waterton and in Whistler. The means are out there. We just need to employ them, we have to work harder. It's not to say the city and residents have done nothing, but obviously we are not doing enough.

Bartol says residents need to secure their food and pick fruit. To learn more about bear safety go here and also listen to our full interview.


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