'Food-conditioned' bear killed by conservation in North Vancouver was 'peaceful and trusting,' society says

A bear named Rufus was killed in Lynn Valley by conservation officers after it appeared to be food conditioned. (Danielle/North Shore Black Bear Society/Facebook)

A black bear recently killed by conservation officers in North Vancouver was believed to be "peaceful and trusting," a local society says.

The North Shore Black Bear Society posted to social media last week saying a bear, named Rufus, was tranquilized and killed in Lynn Valley by the BC Conservation Officer Service last week.

"We tearfully said our goodbyes to him yesterday, but the reality of him being gone is crushing," the society's post said. "Our hearts are with Rufus, all our other beautiful North Shore bears and those in the community who share our sadness this evening."

Luci Cadman, executive director with NSBBS, told CTV News Vancouver in an email that Rufus had been labelled "food conditioned" by the BCCOS. He had reportedly found food regularly and was "too comfortable" around people.

In recent years, the agency has taken on the practice of naming bears it becomes more familiar with, which helps give them value in the eyes of the public.

"We met (Rufus) twice and both times he was incredibly calm," Cadman said. "Bears have personalities and some are naturally very trusting."

The BCCOS, however, said in an emailed statement the bear was deemed "a public safety risk" after it was spotted on school grounds, in residential areas and feeding on garbage. Conservation officers also said the bear was showing "minimal fear of people" and wasn't responding to hazing efforts, "including attempts to chase the bear out of the community."

"We understand people are passionate about wildlife, but this bear was not a candidate for relocation – the risk to the public was simply far too great," a statement from the BCCOS sent to CTV News Vancouver said.

The BCCOS said it's still monitoring multiple bears in the area and is "urging the community to ensure their attractants, such as garbage, pet food and bird seed, are securely stored to help prevent bears and other wildlife from accessing them."

HUNDREDS OF BEARS KILLED

In the first eight months of 2021, 236 black bears were killed by conservation officers across the province. 

In a previous interview, BCCOS provincial wildlife manager Mike Badry explained a bear is labelled "food conditioned" when it has "made that connection that people actually equal a good source of food."

"Once a bear has learned to associate people with food, that behaviour is incredibly hard to change. Those are the bears that probably end up being destroyed," he said.

Cadman previously told CTV News she has an issue with bears being labelled this way.

"Somebody might call in to the conservation service … that a bear is eating berries in the back of the property, and that bear will be immediately labelled as food conditioned," she said.

"It just seems to me those keywords, 'habituated,' 'food conditioned' are just excuses, I believe, to kill bears. Certainly a bear eating berries is not food conditioned."

Both Badry and Cadman agree more work needs to be done to limit food attractants for bears.

"There's still a whole lot of work to do to get people to appropriately manage those attractants," Badry said.

The NSBBS said in Rufus's case, not enough boundaries were created by people.

"He has been encouraged with food all over Lynn Valley and crowded by people who have silently filmed as he ate from dumpsters and fruit trees. He doesn’t know he should not be doing that," a Facebook message posted by the society before Rufus was killed said.

"We have been working hard to teach residents how to set boundaries from a safe place, sharing what attracts bears and always encouraging people to give our bears lots of personal space. Sadly, too many people aren’t listening to advice." 

The BCCOS said it has asked bylaw officers to increase its attractant-related patrols and enforcement in the Lynn Valley area. Tips for securing attractants are available on the province's website