A hunter has been fined after shooting a mother bear in the Skagit Valley June 13, leaving two cubs orphaned yet safe and cared for at a Langley wildlife rescue.
The shooting took place during the annual spring black bear hunting season from April 1 to June 15 said Sergeant Don Stahl with the Conservation Officer Service (COS). The hunter, who had a licence and tags to hunt black bears and assisted the conservation service after the incident, has been fined.
“He watched this one particular bear for a while in a logging slash and didn’t see any cubs…he thought it was a single bear, so he shot it,” Stahl said. “When he got closer and he wanted to dress the bear up, take the meat…about 80-100 metres away in really thick brush he heard and then ended up seeing some cubs.”
The hunter knew it was illegal to hunt sows, Stahl said, hence the reason he had watched the bear for a time. When finding out it was a mother, Stahl said the hunter had two choices – he could have left the area without informing anyone, and as a result the cubs would have died without their mother, or he could turn himself in.
“He did the right thing, he called and he self-reported himself to us,” Stahl said. The hunter then took a day off of work, heading up to the area together with conservation officers and Lydia Koot from the Hope Mountain Black Bear Committee. The group carried live traps in to where the cubs were last seen.
The cubs were caught on June 15, a day after traps were set said Lydia Koot. They were the first cubs of the year brought to the Critter Care Wildlife Rescue in Langley, one of three wildlife shelters in B.C. that take bears. The other two are located on Vancouver Island and in Smithers.
“We of course are really happy with that. They look healthy, they are tiny and they are safe and sound,” she said, adding they are around 4.5 to 5 months old, a brother and sister, weighing around nine pounds each at the time of rescue.
Given the mitigating circumstances in this case – the hunter had no previous hunting or fishing violations, he reported himself and helped conservation officers and Koot locate the cubs – Stahl said the conservation service chose to issue him a fine of $150, which he has paid, and a written warning for a $345 fine. Court appearances, fines in the thousands of dollars and having a firearm seized are possible stricter penalties.
The interest of the cubs is a factor for the COS, Stahl said. Hunters who encounter a situation like this in the future may choose to walk away if they hear of very high fines and the like, making a cub rescue near impossible. “If he wouldn’t have (turned himself in) we never would have found the cubs, they would have starved up there. He did help bring in the traps and walk our staff out to where it was,” Stahl said.
Koot said that bears at this age are very dependent on mother’s milk and haven’t been taught yet what to eat in nature.
For the COS a hard-handed approach could have a chilling effect on future hunters and what they choose to report. “In circumstances like this, where there’s no previous violations and they self-report, if we hammer the person really, really hard and other hunters hear about that and they shoot, say an undersized animal, they’re very reluctant to report themselves,” Stahl said.
What black bear hunters can do to avoid an outcome like this is watch the bear for a reasonable time using high quality binoculars. In a more vegetated or thick brushy area, it may be more difficult to see the cubs, so take more time before shooting Stahl said.
“Usually the cubs are very close to the sow and they stay close together,” he said. “And if you’re not sure, 100 per cent, if you’re in doubt don’t shoot.”
The Skagit Valley, part of the COS Fraser South patrol zone, gets a handful of black bear hunters each year said Stahl. Yet covering the area from White Rock to Boston Bar for 20 years, Stahl said he’s only heard of a mother bear getting shot in this area a total of three or four times. “It’s pretty rare for our area,” he said, and he’s only heard of it happening every five or eight years in this zone.
Bear cub rescues are less rare, and this spring Koot said she’s rescued five already from different parts of B.C.. It’s unusual to rescue so many so early in the year, as rescues normally take place towards the fall when the young bears who have been able to sustain themselves after being orphaned start to run out of berries. They begin to starve and go in search for food, when they usually encounter people.
The sale of black bear licences were up slightly in 2019-2020, with 31,163 sold for the entire province compared to 28,073 in 2017-2-18 according to the province’s lands and forests ministry. The limit for the year, which includes a spring and fall hunt, is two black bears per person.
Anyone who sees suspicious fisheries or wildlife activity can report what they see to the conservation service at 1-877-952-7277.