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Black bear killed in B.C. park after snatching backpacks from hangers at backcountry site

Authorities killed a black bear Friday morning near a backcountry campground southwest of Whistler, B.C., after it snatched multiple backpacks from hangers B.C. Parks installed to keep food away from bears.

B.C. Conservation Officers euthanized the bear in Garibaldi Provincial Park’s Taylor Meadows campsite, roughly 20 kilometres southwest of Whistler.

The black bear showed “behaviour determined to be too much of a public safety risk,” the province’s environment ministry said.

“Putting down any bear is an unfortunate outcome that we work so hard to prevent,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement. “The bear repeatedly accessed food bags from caches, returned to the campground numerous times and showed a minimal fear of people.

“Bears that are conditioned to human food sources are not candidates for relocation or rehabilitation, due to the risk to public safety.”

black bear killed in b c park after snatching backpacks from hangers at backcountry site
B.C. Conservation Officer Service personnel killed more black bears than average over the last three years, according to a B.C. Ministry of Environment freedom of information request by The Fur-Bearers advocacy organization. A total of 3,779 of the animals were euthanized between 2015-2021. (CBC News)

Last year, B.C. conservation officers killed 581 black bears, according to provincial Freedom of Information documents obtained by The Fur-Bearers advocacy organization.

That’s above average for the past seven years, in which a total of 3,779 bears were euthanized.

‘A people education problem’

As bears’ appetites grow ahead of winter hibernation, experts said, they’re increasingly moving into popular places they wouldn’t normally be found. 

Euthanizing habituated bears is a deeply unfortunate outcome of people bringing food into the backcountry — and often storing it improperly or not cleaning up adequately after cooking, said Jay MacArthur, the trails committee chair for the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. 

“I don’t want to see bears getting killed, that’s terrible,” he said. “But, you know, it really is a people education problem, not so much a bear one — you can’t re-educate a bear. 

“Once a bear gets habituated to eating human food, there’s unfortunately not much they can really do.”

Several areas of the same park had to be shut down to visitors this year, including the Singing Creek and Cheakamus Lake campgrounds, because of bears becoming attracted to humans’ food.

A CBC News video from the Taylor Meadows campground showed a black bear eagerly climbing a tree, trying to reach a handful of campers’ backpacks dangling from wires high up on a pulley system — a food cache designed to keep the bags safe from bears. 

The Taylor Meadows area, west of Garibaldi Lake, is usually a popular site for bears with all its berry bushes, as they chow down as much food as they can before hibernating. 

But this season’s late summer and cold and wet weather are different from other years, according to the president of the Friends of Garibaldi Park Society.

“I’m not surprised to hear that the bear was put down,” said Taryn Eyton in an interview. “In a situation where it’s accessing human food, that’s really inevitable.

“A lot of the traditional food sources for bears were not available as early as they usually are.”

black bear killed in b c park after snatching backpacks from hangers at backcountry site 1
At the Taylor Meadows backcountry campsite in Garibaldi Provincial Park, two handwritten notes affixed by campers to an official food cache sign said a bear took at least one backpack, and possibly two, from the elevated wire hangers B.C. Parks provided to keep food away from bears. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Two separate handwritten notes affixed by campers to the official B.C. Parks food cache sign on Thursday said a bear had taken at least one backpack from the elevated wire hangers the province provided to keep food away from bears. 

One note, dated Wednesday, said a bear had taken a red backpack from the cache, which the campers found in the forest along with a black and green pack. “The bear was guarding it and another pack,” the note said. 

The second note, also from Wednesday, said, “Warning: A bear took backpack full of food from bear cache rope by the tree! He will be back!!”

Public reminded to take precautions

Advocates are once again reminding campers to take precautions to avoid future tragedies — for humans and for bears like the one killed on Friday.

Prevention advice includes:

  • Use bear-proof containers and food caches provided. 
  • Never bring even small amounts of food into your tent.
  • Consider sleeping in different clothing than you cooked in, as bears have very sensitive noses.

The province said in a statement that B.C. Parks and the Conservation Officer Service are urging campers to take precautions in bear country, “including travelling in groups, carrying bear spray and making sure attractants are securely stored.”

MacArthur wants the province to hire more park rangers because existing staff are stretched thin and don’t have enough time to educate problem campers.

He also hopes B.C. Parks installs more metal boxes impossible for bears to take food from — unlike the wire hangers dangling food, which he said bears can treat “like a game.”

He adds that bear safety and prevention warnings are not prominent enough on B.C.’s backcountry booking websites. 

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