Elusive bruin eludes pursuit across Abbotsford

Conservation officer Don Stahl dealt with two bears in Abbotsford on Wednesday.

A two-year-old female bear that was tranquilized in Abbotsford on Wednesday afternoon starts to wake up. It had been eating from a bird feeder in Auguston

A two-year-old female bear that was tranquilized in Abbotsford on Wednesday afternoon starts to wake up. It had been eating from a bird feeder in Auguston

Conservation officer Don Stahl dealt with two bears in Abbotsford on Wednesday.

One he tranquilized, and the other is still on the loose – as it has been for the past six to eight weeks.

Melissa Palmer was in her backyard having a cigarette, and out of the corner of her eye, saw what she thought was her neighbour in the next townhouse just before 1 p.m. Wednesday.

As the “neighbour” drew closer,  Palmer looked up – straight into the face of a black bear.

“I stared right into its eyes,” she said. “My heart was racing a thousand beats…”

She scrambled for her sliding door, and the young bear headed through the backyards in the complex.

“It was the last thing you would expect to see,” she said, living in a urban area of the city, with a thin line of cedars between her complex and the highway.

She lives at Fernview townhomes, at 1751 Mackenzie Rd.

Her 11-year-old neighbour Hayden Viala was playing video games when he got a start, seeing the bruin amble through his backyard. He yelled for his mom, but the bear quickly moved along. Another Fernview resident snapped a  photo of the bruin.

As reports from the townhouse complex came in, Stahl took up the chase, and updates rolled in. The bear crossed Highway 1 and was spotted on the University of the Fraser Valley campus. It passed through residential neighbourhoods, crossed blueberry and raspberry fields, and went into wood lots near farms on the south side of Abbotsford.

“We chased it for a couple of hours. It was always a step ahead of us,” said Stahl. “We were hoping to tree it and tranquilize it.”

Then a call came in that a different bear had been treed on a hobby farm in the Auguston area. It had knocked down a bird feeder, and the family dog chased it up the tree. Stahl arrived to tranquilize that small female, and then transported it to Harrison to release it into the wild.

The first bear he chased is still on the loose, and he believes it’s responsible for a number of sightings in Abbotsford recently. Stahl guesses it is a young male.

Generally, at about two years of age, mothers leave maturing cubs to their own devices.

With a proliferation of bears in the area – Stahl estimates there are between 20 and 40 on Sumas Mountain – young males can have trouble finding territory to call home. Mature males will tolerate young females in their territory, but chase off young males.

Unfortunately, these “teenage” males are sometimes driven into urban areas in search of food.

Problem black bears usually stick to a neighbourhood, and Stahl can easily trap them or tree them.

“In my 15-year career he’s one of the hardest ones to track, because he’s got such a huge area.”

His theory is that the bear is using the greenbelt of the hydro tower right-of-way on McKee as his main thoroughfare, then travels the forested areas alongside creeks and streams in Abbotsford, which take him into urban neighbourhoods.

“He makes little raids into subdivisions, mainly going after bird feeders and a little garbage,” said Stahl.

He recommends people leave their bird feeders empty – they might really be “bear feeders” – and keep their garbage indoors or secured until this bear is caught.

“I’m guessing he may show up again in a day or two,” predicts Stahl, saying people in Sandy Hill/Bateman Road area may receive an unexpected visitor.

As long as the bear doesn’t lose its fear of humans, Stahl intends to tranquilize it and relocate it.

“I haven’t heard of any signs of aggression with him,” he said.

Bear sightings in urban areas or other human-wildlife conflicts should be reported to the provincial RAPP line: 1-877-952-RAPP (7277). If a bear presents an immediate danger to people or pets, call 911.