Many St. Albertans expressed shock and outrage after Fish and Wildlife officials were forced to euthanize a bear that had been wandering the city this past weekend.
The bear was first sighted in the city limits Friday in the Campbell Park area. It eventually made its way to Erin Ridge, where it was captured by wildlife officers. Due to injuries it sustained during capture, it had to be euthanized.
Kerry Reiniger was eating breakfast with her family of five on Saturday morning when they looked out the window and saw the bear balancing on the fence in their backyard. Reiniger said her family was shocked, and her three girls, ages 10, nine and five were running around the house screaming.
“It was just very surreal. You don’t ever expect that to happen,” Reiniger said.
“He didn’t seem fussed at all. He was just moseying around. He looked like he was investigating."
Donna Headrick was out for a run Saturday morning when a man warned her about the bear. Returning home, she found the bear was right behind her home and Fish and Wildlife were on scene.
She watched it go up a tree, where Fish and Wildlife officers shot it with a tranquilizer dart. The bear eventually climbed down and Headrick said she thought it was going to pass out. Then it climbed a second tree.
Headrick said Fish and Wildlife shot a second dart, missed, and then shot a third.
“That’s when he was weak enough and that’s when he fell out of the tree,” Headrick said.
Headrick said the entire incident was bittersweet.
“I just (didn't) want anything to happen to the bear but I understand that there's safety concerns, and their job is to contain the bear and make sure that everyone is safe so I understand that. But it's still tough because you don’t want the animal to be injured.”
Goal was relocation
Fish and Wildlife declined an interview. Lisa Glover, a spokesperson for the Justice and Solicitor General (which oversees Fish and Wildlife), said in a statement the goal had been to relocate the bear safely.
Officers first got reports a bear was in the community Friday night at around 10 p.m., when a resident reported it was trapped in a yard and agitated.On Saturday morning, Fish and Wildlife received calls that the bear was behind homes on Everett Drive in Erin Ridge.
The bear climbed a large tree when officers immobilized it and it fell to the ground, Glover said.
“Officers were going to relocate the bear to a safe location. However, after examining the bear, it was determined that a tranquilizer dart impacted the bear internally in the abdominal region. If released, the bear would not survive, and it would have suffered along the way. For these reasons, officers had to make the difficult decision to put the bear down,” Glover said.
The spokesperson said all efforts are made to target large muscle areas, such as the upper hind leg or rump area, but that can be difficult in active field situations due to the animal's position or vegetation in the area.
“Shooting a dart into a large predator can also cause aggravation, and if the drug does not take effect, then the bear could become hostile,” Glover said, adding officers must take necessary safety precautions and keep a safe distance from the bear. Glover also said public safety, followed by the health and wellbeing of wildlife, is the priority.Glover was not able to find out by press time what kind of bear it was, the age of the bear, how often Fish and Wildlife deals with bears in urban areas or how common it is to tranquilize a bear while it is in a tree.
Online, many residents expressed concern about the death of the bear, questioning why a net wasn't used to catch it when it fell from the tree.
The incident also brought to mind for many residents a moose that was killed by a Fish and Wildlife officer in 2017. The cow moose and her two yearling calves had been wandering Red Willow Park on a foggy morning and ended up along the river near the intersection of St. Albert Trail and Sturgeon Road. After officers tried to herd the moose away from the area using rubber bullets and beanbag guns, the cow moose eventually charged. It was shot mid-charge.
Some residents, like Maureen Fiebich, were supportive of Fish and Wildlife officers. Fiebich said she watched for several hours while the officers were searching and waiting for the bear before they took action.
"I can't believe the vitriol coming from wildlife activists who claim they have a better solution. We need to walk in safety and do not need bears in our back yards," Fiebich said, adding that Fish and Wildlife likely sucessfully deal with animals throughout the year but the public only hears about the negative situations.