Officers pose with the bruin that caused havoc in the Smithers BC area.

Smithers and Houston conservation officers were plagued with a cattle-killing grizzly bear for more than three years, which finally ended on October 10, 2001. It started out as a few calves missing, but developed into a full beef diet for the bear. There are many theories out there as to how this bear became so smart, but during the earlier attempts at snaring him, he was able to spring the snares and walk away with the carcass of beef. It is suspected that he probably got smacked in the face with a snare spring which caused him to very wary around the snares. As time went on, a variety of COs worked on him as the complaints kept rolling in. Nights were spent sitting over a kill in hopes of shooting the bear in a spotlight to no avail.

A grizzly bear was captured the first year, which was thought to be the culprit. Little did we know, he was only a small version of what was doing most of the killings. Two Easter holidays in a row, he hit, and in both cases, was right close to the farm houses. COs tracked him in the snow for miles right into a neighbouring valley where the snow eventually ran out, making tracking difficult. His pattern seemed to be to make a grand entrance in the spring to remind everyone that he was still around and then disappear for the summer, only to return hungry in the fall. He would pluck off a few calves in the spring and then move up to yearlings and full grown cows by fall. Some of the kill sites encountered looked like a massacre, and most cases, the cow was dragged off and fed on.

In the fall of 2000, a rancher shot a grizzly bear that was amongst his grazing cattle, again giving the impression that the slaughter would end, but this was not so. In the fall of 2001, he went on a rampage and killed two fullgrown cows (about 1,500 lbs. each) in what was believed to be one night. Strangely, neither cow had been substantially fed on. Officers set a number of snares around the carcasses. Impressions in the moss further back from the carcass led officers to believe the bear had used this route. A single snare was set with little disturbance to the ground utilizing a natural impression with springs and cable that had been soaking in a bucket of cow manure.

The snares were checked at last light and first light for two days with no activity and no feeding on the carcasses. On the third morning, October 10, 2001, CO Lacey checked the snares and with binoculars, could see that there was a large bear in the snare. He promptly called CO Nixon who arrived about 45 minutes later. The officers discussed the situation at the trucks and then started the approach with their guns loaded. At the crest of the hill, they could make out the bear moving around across the ravine, approximately 40 metres away, but due to the brush, could not get a clear shot at him. Given the number of cattle that had been killed and the obvious conditioning of this bear, it was decided that he would be destroyed. Officers carefully started down the hill slowly looking for a good shooting lane. The bear was heard huffing and then lunged and a distinct snap was heard. The bear quickly ran down to the creek at the bottom of the ravine and started up the other side towards the officers. Strangely enough, the officers were thinking that he was getting away and that he would run down the creek. A first it didn't really hit home that he was charging them. When the bear cleared the last of the trees, the officers fired four rounds rapidly. CO Lacey's first shot was the crucial one that saved the officers lives that day as he hit the spine and the shoulder knocking the bear down.

After a few seconds, the officers approached and confirmed that he was dead. It was at this point that things started to unfold in their minds as to what had just happened. A rancher, whowatched the whole event unfold, stated that she could not believe how much slack cable we had given the bear and had expected it to hit the end of its lead much sooner. She was quite shocked when the officers showed her the broken snare cable that was still on the paw of the bear. In replaying the events, it was determined that the bear had managed to chew partially through the cable and it had weakened enough to break under the pressure of the lunge. The bear laid dead seven steps from where the officers had been standing.

The bear was photographed, winched out to a truck and then taken to a taxidermy shop. Once there, it was suggested that the bear should be weighed, so he was taken to a local log scale where the truck was weighed full and then empty later on to determine an accurate weight. Everyone made wagers as to what they thought this bear weighed, but no one guessed high enough. The weight came in at 1,012 pounds.
 

This bear weighed over 1000 pounds.

Officers and the taxidermist then proceeded to skin the bear out and measured the hide. It measured 9' 1” long by 9' 6” wide.

Officers determined that these paws were found at a
minimum of eighteen kill sites.

Thanks to many contributions of time and materials from the taxidermists, the cabinet builders and many other individuals and groups, this bear is now on display for all to see for future years at the Smithers Airport.

Ironically, five years to the day, a second bear was caught and destroyed for killing cattle in the same area that weighed in at 975 pounds. This bear was also put on display thanks to generous contributions again, and is at the Tourist Information Booth in the town of Houston.


This bear is on permanent
display in the Smithers airport.

The rancher involved, Maxine Bell, road her horse on her grazing lease almost daily and, with the assistance and experience of the conservation officers, kept a pretty good handle on what was going on with her cattle. She even spent many a night sleeping in the bush, just to keep an eye on her cattle. She had been able to locate kills in most cases, the next morning. It is not known exactly how many cows she lost to this particular bear, as there could have been other bears or wolves at play, but over a five year period she lost at least 30 head of cattle. The officers had been able to confirm that a bear of this size had left footprints at a minimum of 18 kills.


Author: Dave Webster. Dave is a
member of the Society of British
Columbia Conservation Officers.





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