Needless suffering

More politicking with predators

Over the past few weeks, my neighbours had a collective loss of all their chickens, several turkeys and many ducks, to marauding bears. By the grace of God, my chicken sheds still stands unharmed and my chickens unravaged (however, I did lose the last of my female Muscovy ducks to a fox two nights ago). Two days ago, I ran into Clarence while out for lunch and he invited me to go with him to survey the damage that a bear had wreaked at a friend’s place two nights before. He wanted to read the signs and understand what happened: he would reveal the story while I recorded and photo-documented the scene.

What remains of Gladys chickens

What remains of Glady's chickens

As we approached the chicken shed we passed through Glady’s orchard. As Clarence surveyed every inch of the snow he described what he thought had taken place. Because of the size and shape of the footprint, he realized it was a full grown adult grizzly bear, while the pile of carcasses told him it was planning on returning.

Like a butcher, the bear first cleans out the guts to preserve the meat for when she returns.

Like a butcher, the bear first cleans out the guts to preserve the meat for when she returns.

The proximity of her chicken shed to her house tells me it's a bold bear.

The proximity of her chicken shed to her house tells me it's a bold bear.

Clarence concluded that on the south side of the shed (photo above), the bear actually had the smarts to slide the plywood open and then tear through the heavy wire to get at the chickens. (Note the proximity of the chicken shed to my friend’s house, which tells us the bears are not afraid of humans.) On the north side, the shed was not so lucky. The bear tore off the plywood covering and wooden slats that held it ,before ripping into the wire. Clarence showed the difference between the claw marks and teeth marks on the wooden walls.

North side of shed where the bear ripped apart the 2 x 6 inch wood and plywood covering of the window.

North side of shed where the bear ripped apart the 1 x 6 inch wood and plywood covering of the window.

Clarence soon determined it was actually two bears because there were two distinct prints in the snow. He reckons it is a mother grizzly and her two year old cub. We followed the tracks and saw the fence they broke getting into the property. They left fur on the wooden fence and barbed wire fencing, too. We found where they had bedded down and eaten some of the chickens.

Where the bear bedded down to eat, notice the chicken feathers everywhere.

Where the bears bedded down to eat; notice the chicken feathers everywhere.

Once we came across the bear bed, the hunter in Clarence almost took over: “I bet they’re bedded down right now within a 100 feet or so…Oh my achin’ back, that trail is hot…that’s an old army expression…wanna walk a ways into the bush with me?” As attractive as that offer was, upon cooler consideration we concluded it would be better that we were both armed before rummaging further afield through the dense forest at dusk in pursuit of the ‘robbers’, as Clarence affectionately called them.

In his forty-two years in this valley, he has never observed bears not hibernating at this time of year. Officials will likely say this is because there were not enough fish in the rivers this summer; more experienced people here in the valley tend to subscribe to the idea that this is because we are no longer trapping and shooting the bears, so they are no longer afraid of humans. In the case of these two bears it is probably a combination of both.

The bears did come back that night, and for two more nights, to finish off what they’d left behind. Once they were done, they moved on to yet another neighbour and cleaned out her chicken shed, too. Altogether at least seven households have been attacked and their livestock completely wiped out. Normally under these circumstances you could call the Conservation Officer and they might bring a cage up to trap the bear. However, we are presently without a Conservation Officer and had been since June and are likely to be until April (if we are lucky).

Our community should have been able to deal directly with this situation by phoning any number of equally qualified and experienced, willing hunter-neighbours. They could have effectively and safely destroyed the bear immediately, either themselves or by using the Ministry of Environment’s bear trap, which sits idle in the snow just across from where I write. (Like the fire and ambulance service, we could have a resident volunteer team ready to go into action; actually we already have the team, just not the permission to act.)  But British Columbia’s laws prohibit this kind of common sense approach. Instead, our community had to wait to plead the case to the Ministry which took days, even weeks. Fortunately the bear didn’t decide to enter someone’s house during that time.

As I write this post, my dog is barking her head off letting me know something is out there, but it’s nearly time to close up the shed and put away the animals. Meanwhile the Conservation Officer from Williams Lake has just begun his six hour drive to get here…


Filed under Animal issues, Conservation, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

11 responses to “Needless suffering

  1. Great post, glad there isn’t bear in the photos. I worry about you and Clarence!

    Sadly, it is the same here with mountain lions. More people live in cities, and they are the ones who enact the laws. Leaving the rural people who deal with more reality in their lives with dilemma’s such as this.

    I hope your officer can provide a “solution” in a quick manner, before the bear(s) decide they are hungrier.

    I agree it is more than one factor at play here, only you folks can’t use all the tools to deal with this, as you should be able to.

  2. Last year when the cougar was in my yard, the CO said that because this is a rural place I have to expect to have wildlife conflicts. He even went further to tell me the cougar didn’t pose a risk to human welfare because he believed it was ‘only’ looking at my goats! The fact it was in my driveway four feet from my house meant nothing. Or that young women walk my street with babies in carriages, or the children ride their bikes up and down my street, wait for the bus half a block away didn’t mean a thing. The rules say, ‘ when cougars are spotted in rural places’ they don’t pose a threat and that they will only respond when a cougar ‘poses a direct threat to human safety’. What does that mean, wait until someone is being attacked?

    Why do I have to wait until it is eating my goats, or me, before they act? Our society is running an incredibly dangerous experiment by presuming we can ‘live in harmony’ with wildlife. We can’t, never have, never will.

    The sad thing is, even though many people have lost their lives because of this thinking, rules and policy thinking is still not changing. My friend with the chicken house told me last night that she no longer likes living here because of the danger the bears and cougars pose to us now that we are no longer allowed to trap and shoot them. She’s been here 41 years! She’s not the only one that feels that way either.

  3. Robin

    It’s too bad lawmakers aren’t in your area while this is happening. I think I’d be practicing SSS, though the second S (shovel) might be a big project for a grizzly. I wish you well and hope the bears stay away.

  4. The second S is exactly why the bears aren’t being dealt with by locals anymore (that and of course the fact that we’re all law-abiding citizens).

  5. LittleFfarm Dairy

    Crikey, what a nightmare!

    I’m sure you’re keeping that lovely new rifle – & your dog – with you at all times, now; but it’s worrying that the bears aren’t hibernating – what caused the lack of fish? And of course, if the bears have nothing to be afraid of, they’ll stop at nothing if they’re hungry. Ultimately, I hope that nobody would blame you if you felt you had to shoot in “self defence”…..

    Keep safe, my friend: we’re all worrying about you!

  6. EJ

    Any thoughts about the fact that you are placing tasty food morsels in the bears territory? Who was there first?

    Difficult questions, no easy answers or solutions!

  7. EJ-re the tasty morsels. This line of thinking is a dangerous one and here’s why. If you say I shouldn’t be placing ‘tasty morsels’ in ‘their territory’ then you are saying it is my responsibility to ‘not attract’ the bears. In addition, you are saying that that my home is not ‘my territory’.

    Although this preservationist philosophy is the contemporary thinking, it is built on erroneous arguments. For one thing, humans have been on this earth just as long as the bears. And, if you are going to argue that line, then you will have to accept that all of North America’s great cities were also the ‘bears” territory before ‘we’ got here (same for Europe, India, China and so on). So, do we all give up our cities, our homes, if so, where then do humans ‘belong’?

    You might argue that the past is the past, and we must do what we can, now. But the notion of ‘territory’ is the real problem. Your question presumes that there is a boundary between the bears’ ‘territory’ and ‘mine’. However, as with so many issues, the debate and struggle are over boundaries, borders, margins. The fact is, there is no demarcated boundary to any creature’s territory, only niches. The idea of settled borders is a human invention–and even we don’t keep them (look at Gaza, or the Mexico/US border). Secondly, the bear’s ‘range’ (or any creature’s) depends on food supply. If the food supply changes, then so does her ‘range’ (or territory). A poor summer with few fish or berries pushes the bear to extend its range. On the other side, chicken houses and the policy of ‘non-deterrents’ attract a bear to extend its range, it being a lot easier to get ‘take out’ than hunt for your own food.

    As for the ‘tasty morsels’ that I ‘bait’ the bear with, this is even more dangerous thinking particularly in light of our times. Humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and domesticated animals in this valley. While the bears’ boundary is shifting, our human boundary is clearly delineated (often by a fence) and we teach that by shooting. People here (and in all of North America, and the world where there are predators) trained the bears and cougars (like dogs, they can be trained too) not to intrude across their delineated border by shooting and trapping offenders. What has changed here recently is legislation, so that today we land-owners are not allowed to patrol our borders, i.e. we are no longer allowed to shoot or trap nuisance bears (wolves, cougars, etc). Before this legislative change, predators were not a problem here, nor were they decimated. In fact, we now have an over-population of bears, grizzlies in particular (maybe the government will organize one of their ‘industrial harvest’ like they did in Kelowna with the ‘nuisance rabbits’ or are about to in the Yukon with ‘nuisance geese’ to right the balance since we are no longer allowed to maintain the balance ourselves).

    If we ascribe to the ‘non-deterrant’ theory, then the next ‘logical’ step is to pass laws that forbid the keeping of chickens (or ducks, or turkeys, or pigs, or goats, horses, dogs, etc), that no one should be allowed to keep fruit trees, or to grow a garden (carrots and parsley are grizzly bears favourites). Would you agree to all these things in order to not ‘bait’ the bears? What about my deep freezer, or the dog food, or my barbeque, all of which I keep in my garage, would you say I have to get rid of those too?

    Moreover, where does the ‘baiting’ stop? At my front door? Inside my fridge? Will you blame me if they come through my front door (and I mean through: few man-made structures will stop a marauding bear, even a small one) to get to my dog, her food, my bacon frying on the stove, me?

    The idea that humans are responsible to not ‘attract’ the bears is ridiculous. It is a recent way of thinking and the result is that we are now engaged in a dangerous experiment with wildlife. Since humans have been on the earth they have been in direct competition with other large predators for their food (livelihood). We simply have lost sight of this now that most of us buy food from the grocery store.

  8. Little ffarm-we are still allowed to shoot in self-defense. That is, if your life is in danger. But the fact that we are no longer allowed to protect our livestock and our own food sources (except if you catch the bear in the act, but then this is no longer really protecting if half, or all of, your stock is already dead).

    The lack of fish of course is due to over fishing by commercial fisherman, most of them international harvesters. Our local commercial fellows did very poorly this year, several didn’t even bother to go out. But the lack of fish argument is a thin one. Most of the bears have gone into hibernation, these few are probably young, and thus, last in line for the right to the river. In other words, they probably weren’t big enough, or brave enough to fight off the other bears for access to territory. We now have an overpopulation problem here in the valley, so there simply is not enough food to go around. The government is not acknowledging this, they are still playing the ‘endangered species’ card. Once again, the one size fits all legislation is at play here. There are areas in the world where the bears are ‘endangered’ but it is certainly not the case here.

    You are correct to say they will stop at nothing to get food. They are entering houses in North America thanks to the human’s idea that we can live ‘in harmony’ with nature and that it is our responsibility to not ‘attract’ them. In New Jersey, this thinking has gone so far that communities have organized community garbage stations (with the thought that the bears were coming for the garbage and if they just got rid of that then they would go away). Once they got control of their garbage and it was no longer in the street waiting for pick up the bears began entering houses.

    We have to admit this line of thinking simply is not working or we will be facing the bears in our kitchens! Incidentally, there has been a black bear that entered someone’s house here in the valley while the couple was at home watching tv–they shot it in the kitchen. Rumor has it that the woman was thrilled because she’d been wanting the kitchen redone, but the husband was unenthusiastic–the damage the 12-gauge inflicted on the room forced the issue!

  9. suburbanbushwacker

    I’m really impressed with the way you answered this one. So clear, great writing

  10. Pingback: Making bears and fruit trees get along « Howling Duck Ranch

  11. Pingback: Needless Suffering Comes Home to Roost « Howling Duck Ranch

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