Five garbage-habituated bears put down after man bluff charged

Five bears euthanized

UPDATE 5:15 p.m.

The Conservation Officer Service of B.C. says a person was bluff-charged by a black bear near Penticton's Wiltse Elementary Wednesday night, which eventually led to officers having to put down five garbage-habituated bears in the neighbourhood Thursday.

Sgt. James Zucchelli says officers have been fielding calls from the neighbourhood for over a week about a group of five adult black bears drawn to the area by poorly managed garbage, fruit trees, bird seed and other attractants. 

Zucchelli said the bears had been food-conditioned to the point where they had lost their fear of people — walking over the decks of homes in a group, at one point even devouring a hot tub cover. 

“We’ve been trying to manage the calls to the point of saying to people ‘look we are going to have to kill these bears if people clean up their act with the garbage,’” he said, adding a City of Penticton trash can was swapped to a bear-proof version.

The situation reached a tipping point Wednesday night when one of the bears charged a person in the greenbelt directly behind Wiltse Elementary.

“It got to the point where it was unacceptable from a public safety standpoint for us to allow this to continue,” Zucchelli said, adding the bears were not candidates to be “shepherded” out of the community. 

Wiltse Elementary was shut down and students were kept indoors while Zucchelli and another officer euthanized the bears. The RCMP was informed of the situation. 

“We don’t take these things lightly,” Zucchelli said. “It’s hard on the conservation officers that are involved, the community, it's hard on everybody."

“We have Halloween that’s right around the corner, personally I would not want to have my kids running out around the Wiltse neighbourhood if there are five bears that have continually reported to be showing aggression,” he said.

Penticton residents simply cannot store garbage outside their homes and need to do a better job managing attractants, Zucchelli said. No single attractant can be blamed in this case, as it is more of a neighbourhood issue. 

“We are trying to have people clean up their act so we don’t get into this situation they become aggressive towards people and we have these incidents.”

Zucchelli pointed to Naramata — which celebrated its anniversary as a Bear Aware community Thursday — as an example of one where attractants are properly managed. He said despite a resident bear population near Naramata, they have not had to put any down there in years.

UPDATE 1:45 p.m.

Residents tell Castanet News conservation officers destroyed multiple bears in the Wiltse area late this morning. 

Four or five gunshots were heard in the neighbourhood around 11:00 a.m. Callers to the newsroom reported seeing conservation officers loading up a dead bear near Wiltse Elementary.

Multiple B.C. Conservation Officer Service vehicles were seen leaving the forested area directly behind the elementary school as Castanet arrived at the scene. 

It’s not confirmed exactly how many bears were put down, but neighbours say it as many as five. 

Castanet News has reached out to the BCCOS for comment.

ORIGINAL 12:45 p.m.

Residents of Penticton's Wiltse neighbourhood are being warned to make sure windfall fruit is collected, garbage is securely stowed and jack-o-lanterns aren't left out.

Bears are on the prowl as they fatten up for their winter hibernation, and five bruins were spotted in backyards just this morning.

Resident Karla Ziegler tells Castanet the bears were preceded by deer, finishing off what was left of her roses on Wednesday. She managed to capture a photo of four of the black bears.

A group of bears is known as a sleuth or a sloth.

Making their presence all the more dangerous is that there is an elementary school in the neighbourhood, which is in a forest interface zone in the hills above Penticton.

Kevin Rothwell

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