Close encounters
Bears continue to be a nuisance around Fort Smith

Darren Campbell
Northern News Services

FORT SMITH (Aug 03/98) - Black bears continue to cause headaches for the authorities and residents of Fort Smith.

Just one week after authorities gunned down a two-year-old, 72-kilogram bear, another bear had to be shot inside town limits July 25.

RCMP and Fort Smith bylaw officers were called in late that evening after a five-year-old male bear wandered into town and would not leave.

Doug Norrad, the bylaw officer who helped track the bear along with Const. Adolphus Norris, said they caught up to it near Polar Rentals and Sales on Calder Avenue in town.

"It was walking near the front door and it watched us and watched us," said Norrad. "As we got closer (to the bear) we decided to put it down."

Norrad said some people in town are worried about too many bears being needlessly shot, although he hasn't received any formal complaints.

He said he does not have tranquillizing equipment with him, so they have little choice but to shoot the animal if it won't leave. But it is not something he enjoys doing.

"When you shoot them and then look at them, you wish you hadn't," said Norrad. "But public safety has to come first."

The Department of Resources' regional manager of wildlife, Sam Ransom, commends the work of Norrad and Norris.

Ransom said his department can't set bear traps around town because they fear a person could get trapped in them. They also don't want residents running into bears who get trapped.

And with many of their employees being used during this busy fire season, they have to depend on what few resources remain.

"We try to get them (bears) out of town but when they are right in the middle of the community you can't take many chances," said Ransom.

Fort Smith was not the only place that had a close encounter with bears. Nine students from the town and the support staff at a fire effects camp at Powder Lake had some tense moments when two female bears and their cubs wandered into the camp.

The bears had been around the camp and getting into the garbage container before the shooting. They were obviously coming back for more. He said they could not afford to take any chances with female bears and their cubs coming near a camp filled with students. So two elders shot the females.

"They thought the safest thing was to take these bears out," said Ransom. "Cubs have no fear and females can be quite aggressive when they are around their young."