A Whistler, B.C., woman was fined $60,000 for feeding bears three years ago that she thought she was helping, according to a recently released court ruling in the case.
Zuzana Stevikova was handed the sentence last month after pleading guilty to two counts under the Wildlife Act for repeatedly feeding black bears between June and August of 2018 — an action that resulted in the B.C. Conservation Officer Service killing a mother bear and two cubs who had become habituated to human food.
Witnesses recalled seeing up to five bears at once at Stevikova’s luxury Kadenwood home, and reported hearing her addressing one bear by the name of “Lilly.”
Stevikova was found to have bought bulk produce to feed the bears, including up to 10 cases of apples, 50 pounds of carrots and pears, and up to 15 dozen eggs, all on a weekly basis.
“(She) told one witness she was feeding the bears and felt that they needed help, as they looked skinny and she was concerned for their welfare and told another that she was feeding the bears so that people in Whistler would not complain about them and the conservation officers would not kill them,” according to the ruling by B.C. Provincial Court judge Lyndsay Smith.
“She wanted to ascertain what she could or should do. Rather than contact provincial wildlife resources for information in this regard, she spoke with an ‘expert.'”
The court heard that Stevikova and her spouse had donated nearly $20,000 to animal charities since 2015 and that she was a vegan “having altered her diet to comport with her views of the value of animals.”
Judge Smith ruled that Stevikova’s good intentions did not mitigate her culpability in the case, particularly given that messaging around bear safety and wildlife regulations was widely distributed in Whistler.
Stevikova had, instead, “intentionally sidestepped the province’s wildlife management scheme,” Smith found.
“The bears were not hers and her good intentions fly in the face of common knowledge of users of this province’s wilderness: You do not leave out food or other attractants for bears or other dangerous wildlife,” Smith wrote.
“Here, there was actual harm to the environment, if such a phrase can properly capture the death of a female adult bear and her two cubs.”
That finding was reflected in the $60,000 fines, which significantly exceeded Crown and defence’s joint submission of a $10,500 penalty.
The maximum combined penalty available for the two counts Stevikova pleaded guilty to was $150,000 and 18 months in jail.
“That to me was incredible, for the judge to find the death of three animals was incredible, for the judge to find that the death of three animals was an aggravating factor,” animal law lawyer Rebeka Breder told Global News.
“We can not feed wildlife. It will ultimately result in their death. And if you even try to feed them and attract them, you could be exposed to a very hefty fine.”
All but $1,000 of the fines will be directed to the Habitat Conservation Foundation.
Charges against Stevikova’s partner, Oliver Dugan, were stayed.