Three residents of a Coquitlam neighbourhood were arrested Tuesday after allegedly obstructing conservation officers who were tracking a family of bears in the area.
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS) says officers had been tracking a mother bear and two cubs for about six weeks, and had tried multiple times to trap them before they became human habituated.
It says when officers arrived on Tuesday, the bears were seen walking away from a trash bin.
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That’s when several residents say they came out to object to the officers’ activities, which reportedly led to tensions and the eventual arrest of the trio. Residents also told Global News that officers confiscated their phones.
Global News has requested comment from both the COS and RCMP about the allegation residents’ phones were confiscated.
“I came out of my house, and there was a conservation officer with a shotgun in my front yard, and he was screaming at me,” said Susan Flint, one of the residents who was arrested.
“They were chasing this mama bear with her two cubs through the neighbourhood, and I just yelled: ‘Don’t shoot the bears, don’t shoot the bears!’ because it’s a mum and babies. And then he told me that I was obstructing justice and he arrested me.”
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In a teleconference Wednesday, Conservation Officer Murray Smith said COs were trying to prompt the bears up a tree to tranquilize them, when the two men and a woman physically obstructed them from doing so.
Smith said officers ordered the people to back away, but that they refused.
He said the three were arrested, with the assistance of the RCMP, and charged under the wildlife act and two of their cell phones were seized as evidence of a criminal offence.
“It is noted that conservation officers have a very difficult job to do associated to protecting public safety relating to dangerous wildlife having the public interfere with this difficult job only exasperates this difficult situation,” said Smith.
“Not only is public safety threatened but after officers safety is compromised.”
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But some residents say the arrests — and the destruction of the bears — were unfair.
“It’s ridiculous how everybody is with the bears. People are not doing a good enough job with the garbage, leaving attractants out. The poor bears, they’re just hungry, looking for something to eat,” said Tony Faccin, another of the residents arrested on Tuesday.
“The people in the neighbourhood here all know. The bears have been around ever since I’ve lived here. I’ve been here for three years … you let them be, and they let you be. It’s no problem.”
Another neighbour, who asked not to be named but supplied photos of the bears to Global News, disagreed — saying the family had caused “significant problems” in the area and had broken their fence and killed local trees.
Conservation officers have recently reported a huge spike in bear sightings in the Lower Mainland.
Earlier this month, the COS said it had already received 3,200 bear sighting reports in the region compared to just 4,500 for the entire season last year.
There has also been an increase in the number of bears destroyed by the COS, with 51 killed by July 17 compared to 81 for the entire 2018 season.
The service maintains that bears are only put down when they become aggressive or habituated to human food.
Residents are reminded to keep attractants such as fruit or other food out of their yards and not to put trash out until 5:30 a.m. on pickup day.
In Coquitlam, failing to follow the trash bylaws can come with a $500 fine.
—With files from Neetu Garcha