Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Officers "Massacre" 12 Bears
Letter to the Editor of The Edmonton Journal

The massacre of 12 black bears outside of Conklin, Alberta is indicative of our ignorance and arrogance. People in the Conklin area were feeding these bears at the local dump - a dump that should have had fencing around it. Survival being the main idea for all living things, the bears took advantage of the free and easy food. Then, in our wisdom, we determine that the bears have become too comfortable around humans and must be destroyed to prevent any possible attacks.

Many will argue that public safety is paramount and we must endeavour to live in safe communities. Fair enough. We need to have homes and, as our population grows, we often take over animal habitat. Just like a bear will protects its cubs if we encounter them in the wild, we need to protect our own in our communities. Except, when there is an attack in animal territory, we still hunt down and kill the animal... which is especially ironic when the victims are hunters (I'm merely pointing out the irony here - I respect hunters and any wilderness attack is tragic).

What really makes me angry about this whole thing is how we are so quick to dispense with the lives of animals perceived as pests or hazards in the name of public safety, yet we are the same society who regularly releases dangerous sex offenders, gang members and pedophiles onto our streets daily from local prisons and mental hospitals. Imagine the outcry if someone started killing pan handlers because they considered them pests or potentially dangerous?

In the end, we must shed the arrogance and ignorant view that we are the keepers of the earth and accept that, more often than not with animal encounters, we are the problem.

Here is the Edmonton Journal story:

Wildlife officers shot and killed 12 black bears at a landfill outside a northern Alberta hamlet on Tuesday in what is believed to be the largest bear cull in recent history.

People from Conklin, with a population of 166, regularly bring their children to the dump to watch, photograph and feed the bears, and the animals had become accustomed to people.

"The landfill had improper fencing and there were reports people were feeding the bears," Alberta Sustainable Resource Development spokesman Darcy Whiteside said.

"It was public safety concern. These bears were not afraid of humans anymore."

But critics say the mass killing is inexcusable, because the government has long known that garbage, bears and people don't mix.

"Instead of investing in fences that would keep the bears out of the garbage and away from humans, they decide the cheapest solution is to lay to waste a bunch of living animals as if they didn't have a right to exist. It's really deplorable," said Sid Marty, a park warden turned activist who recently published a book about a garbage-seeking grizzly that mauled five people in Banff in the early 1980s, killing one.

He said governments have known about the problem since the 1960s, when Yellowstone National Park in the U. S. closed its dump to protect area bears.

"And now they haven't solved the problem," he said of the Alberta government. "What are they going to do, shoot every bear that comes to the dump until the end of time?"

On Aug. 5, the ministry received a bear complaint from the PTI Conklin Lodge, two kilometres from the dump. The lodge is a housing complex for about 300 people who work in the oil and gas industry.

Fred Bannon, vice-president of operations, said the manager called fish and wildlife officers after he saw five bears climbing up on the decks and hanging around the buildings. He said the manager's last contact with officials was Aug. 7. The bears were killed Aug. 11.

A Conklin resident, who wished to remain anonymous, was outraged when he heard the bears were killed instead of relocated. He contacted The Journal.

"It's totally inhumane. We are in their environment, there are no fences, this dump is unmanned, there are no signs to say don't feed the bears ... and everybody goes there to watch them because there's nothing to do up here," he said.

"We are inviting these bears to their death. It's just a total waste. It's a massacre."

Whiteside said he can't remember a time when 12 bears were killed at once, and that such large culls are uncommon, but, in this case, relocating the bears was not an option.

"If we were to move bears this habituated, they will come back to the area or they will become a problem where they are relocated," he said.

The ministry is currently working with communities as part of its new bear smart education campaign, he said. That will eventually include Conklin.

In the meantime, wildlife officers will be monitoring the area and making sure people don't go to the dump to visit the bears.


Whiteside said Alberta Environment and the municipality are responsible for ensuring proper fencing is in place to protect bears and humans. "The fencing issue has been addressed with the municipality. It's not our responsibility to build the fence around the landfill."

The rules regarding barriers are enforced by Alberta Environment, which oversees dumps. Department spokesman Trevor Gemmell said most landfills must have barriers that prevent public access and unauthorized dumping. However, requirements for wildlife mitigation plans, including barriers to keep bears out, are determined on a case-by-case basis.

He was unable to say whether the Conklin dump had a wildlife mitigation plan in place. However, the site was inspected June 9, and while the municipality did receive a letter of non-compliance, it had nothing to do with barriers.

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo spokesman Tyran Ault said the municipality has a plan to close the dump, which Alberta Environment is reviewing.

In the meantime, the municipality is looking at temporary fencing for the site, but is wary of creating what one official called a "bear pen."


Alberta Environment is working with the municipality on that plan, which may require burying the garbage and surrounding it with a permanent electrified fence, Gemmell said. A closure plan could be approved as early as 2010 and the site converted to a waste transfer station.

Defenders of Wildlife spokesman Jim Pissot said the situation smacks of "bureaucratic cowardice."

"It is absolutely unconscionable in 2009 that a garbage dump is left open in bear country, and that people are so ill-informed as to feed bears and encourage habituation," he said.

"What this boils down to is that this province, whether it's the premier, the minister of Sustainable Resources Development or the minister of Alberta Environment, is not committed to wildlife conservation in any sense whatsoever.

"These animals are not teddy bears. The responsibility falls to the province to protect wildlife under these circumstances, and without exception, senior elected officials have failed Albertans.

"This is a shameful black mark on this province's wildlife record."

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