A Rossland family experienced first-hand what happens when bears become food-conditioned on Tuesday morning.
Miche Warwick and her three children returned to what should have been their empty home around 11:15 a.m. to find a bear in the basement. Things eventually went from bad to worse and by the end of the afternoon two yearlings were dead and Warwick was in tears.
It started when Warwick arrived home from taking her kids to gymnastics in Trail.
“My partner Dan was at work and I was out and about all morning with my kids … and we got home, and it was about 11:15 (a.m.) and I had left my baby in the van for a minute, in his car seat because he was sleeping, and I brought the big kids inside with all of our stuff,” said Warwick. “And my oldest said to me … ‘Oh, dada’s home. I can hear dada in the basement. He’s home.’”
She went downstairs to find out why her partner was home and discovered a bear there instead, rooting through the trash can, which had been knocked over.
“It was just sitting there, happily eating away,” said Warwick.
She believes the bear was able to open the door to the basement because the latch didn’t quite catch when it was closed that morning.
Warwick made a lot of noise, banging things and yelling at the bear, and managed to drive it outside and get the door closed. But when she checked to see if the bear had left, she found it standing two feet outside the door.
“It stood up on its hind legs and growled at me and so I slammed the door shut,” she said.
The bear wasn’t leaving the property, so Warwick used another exit to pack her kids up in the van and drive to her partner’s workplace.
He came home and managed to scare the bear off of their property and into a tree on the neighbour’s property — and that’s when they spotted the second yearling up another tree.
With both bears treed, Warwick’s partner returned to work and she called the conservation officer because she was concerned that the bear had been in the house. But at that point, there was no discussion about euthanizing the bear.
“The plan that we made was that the conservation officer was going to come to my house later in the afternoon and just talk to us about the situation,” said Warwick.
She started making lunch for the kids when she heard something at the back door.
“One of the bear cubs was right up on my back stoop,” she said.
Warwick again tried to scare the bear off by making a lot of noise, but it didn’t budge and was soon joined by the second bear.
And then the two bears broke into her house by breaking a window leading into the basement.
Warwick called conservation asking for help and got her kids out of the house again. They went back to her partner’s workplace and picked him up before returning to their property.
The conservation office has made it clear before that its policy is to kill food-conditioned bears who break into homes.
“So we could either make this really easy and almost, in a way, kind of keep them in our house until conservation got there and deal with this quickly and efficiently so that nobody else had to go through what I just went through today, which is what we decided to do,” Warwick explained Tuesday afternoon.
Conservation officer Ben Beetlestone and four RCMP officers arrived and drove the bears outside and treed the bears before euthanizing them. Beetlestone was unable to say whether or not these were the same two cubs who were previously spotted in Lower Rossland with their mother.
In the meantime, Warwick and her family were led off the property to wait and passing cars slowed when the drivers’ spotted RCMP officers with shotguns, four RCMP vehicles with lights flashing and a conservation vehicle.
One man stopped and asked what was going on. When he found out there were bears in the house, Warwick explained he said “So what are they going to shoot the bears?” and when Warwick replied yes, he said, “Bastards.”
“And I looked at him as I was sobbing my eyes out and I said, ‘No, they’re not bastards.’ I called somebody for help because I was a mom with three kids at home and I had two bears in my house. What was I supposed to do?” Warwick recounted through tears. “What would you do?”
Beetlestone said it was not Warwick family’s fault that the bears entered their home.
“You can’t say that the people did anything wrong. They used weekly garbage pickup, so it wasn’t like a stockpile of garbage, so it just shows you the power that bears have in smelling and when bears become habituated to non-natural food attractants this is what they decide to start doing,” he said. “They start breaking into houses in the middle of the day, that are occupied by a family.”
Beetlestone said it’s up to community members to keep bears from becoming habituated.
What Warwick would like Rosslanders to take away from this story is that our community needs to take eliminating bear attractants seriously.
“Our community as a whole, we’re not managing our garbage and other bear attractants responsibly — as a whole,” emphasized Warwick. “I’m not pointing fingers at any individual person or at the City of Rossland or anybody in particular. As a whole community, we are failing. We are failing and this is not OK because people’s safety is seriously at risk. Nobody should ever come home to a bear in their house.”
It was just as Beetlestone and the RCMP officers were leaving that another bear — possibly the mother of the cubs, but Beetlestone couldn’t say — showed up and started trying to get into the neighbours’ houses.
“There was a third bear came in after that and … I watched it try to enter into one house and the RCMP watched it try to enter into two houses before I returned to that location,” said Beetlestone.
There was no safe shot, but he and the RCMP were able to scare it off.
At the same time, a fourth bear tried to crawl through the window of a home in Upper Rossland.
“It actually had pushed the screen open and was in the process of crawling into the house when the owner saw it,” said Beetlestone.
That bear had left by the time he got to the house.