Bear patrol
RWED officer stays busy

Cindy MacDougall
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 01/99) - Wildlife officer Patricia Handley handles a shotgun with steady ease as she loads two shells. It never hurts to be careful when she's checking a bear trap.

"It would take multiple shots to bring down a bear," she said as she peeked into the metal bear trap outside of Dettah, within which a bait of meat and sweet-smelling liquid hangs from a tough rope. "I've only had to put a bear down once, though."

Handley, 23, has been with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development "off and on" for four years, but just switched from firefighting to wildlife this summer.

"When I was little, I wanted to either be a veterinarian or work in a zoo," Handley said. "But I gave this a try and I love it."

Today, there's no bear in the trap and no reported bear sightings in town. But Handley said it's been a busy bear summer.

"We had to capture and release 26 of them this year, and I put down a really sick bear at the dump," she said. "But some days there's been several bear sightings a day in town."

A black bear was captured last Thursday in the Igloo Inn parking lot, checking out a barrel of restaurant grease. Albert Bourque, another wildlife officer, shot the bear with a tranquillizer dart and released him in the wild later that day.

Bourque stood on the bed of his truck while the bear was released and had to make sure the bear would leave the area.

"He was a little rascal," Bourque said with a laugh. "I had to shoot off a scare shell. If I'd been on the ground, I think he would have molested me."

Dump bears are a serious concern now, with over seven bears making that area of Yellowknife their home. Handley said they've found many sick and injured animals at the dump.

"One of them has a bad case of mange. Its fur is falling out," she said.

Now that the bears are starting to den for the winter, Handley said the sightings should go down.

But that doesn't mean the wildlife officers won't be busy.

"We handle other animals, too. We had nuisance beavers build a dam in the Kam Lake sewage lagoon, and the water level rose in there," Handley said.

"We've even had a porcupine get into an elementary school. I had to get him with a dip net."