Recent reports claimed provincial wildlife officers “massacred” 12 black bears that had made their main feeding grounds a dump near Conklin.
Residents of Conklin, a community of 166 people located between Fort McMurray and Lac la Biche, are outraged about the killings. The dump was a favourite spot where they could take their children to watch the bears, photograph and feed them.
Also outraged are some animal activists, who have condemned the provincial government for mishandling the bear problems at the dump.
So far, the finger of blame has pointed at the province by Conklin residents and wildlife activists.
But the killings are the result of two factors.
First, the provincial government may have been negligent in keeping the dump out of the bears’ reach.
Second, the residents of Conklin were ignorant of the habits of wild animals. They were feeding the bears, turning them into glorified pets.
But these are wild animals, no matter how Walt Disney might paint them in some cutesy movie. Film clips that afford wild animals human characteristics twist our views on the reality of wildlife.
The result is that many people fail to recognize many wild animals for what they are: capable of inflicting serious harm on humans.
A government official said the Conklin bears posed a public safety threat because they were no longer afraid of humans.
The people of Conklin enjoyed watching these creatures. But ignorance prevailed: they were actually feeding the bruins, according to reports. They turned wild animals into dump yard scavengers complacent of humans.
At the same time, government should have taken steps to bear-proof the dump, perhaps with a sturdy fence.
If it was the province’s responsibility to ensure the dump was bear-proof, then it failed miserably.
If it was the municipality’s responsibility, then representatives of Conklin have failed miserably. And why should it not be a responsibility of the municipality? The people of that community used the dump.
On Aug. 5, the province received a complaint from a nearby housing complex for about 300 energy workers that five bears were climbing on the decks and hanging around the buildings.
That set in motion the drastic measures of Aug. 11, when 12 black bears were shot.
Critics argue that the bears should have been tranquilized and relocated. But a bear, once turned into a glorified pet and eating the easy pickings in a human settlement, will find its way back to other areas inhabited by humans where dinner is served.
Defenders of Wildlife spokesperson Jim Pissot is outraged. Pissot is a highly respected guardian of wild creatures in Alberta and his stern comments over the Conklin incident deserve attention.
But while taking the government to task, Pissot also makes note of the public’s ignorance of wildlife.
“It is absolutely unconscionable in 2009 that a garbage dump is left open in bear country and that people are so ill-informed as to feed bears and encourage habitation,” said Pissot.
“These animals are not teddy bears. The responsibility falls to the province to protect wildlife under these circumstances, and without exception, senior elected officials have failed Albertans.”
Pissot is correct. But is the government to blame for the ignorance of some people when it comes to wildlife?
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.