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Keeping people and bears apart

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, August 6, 2007

HAY RIVER - For Jerry Hordal, a renewable resources officer in Hay River, this is bear season.

And like other renewable resources officers in the NWT, Hordal works to keep bears and people away from each other for the good of both.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Renewable resources officer Jerry Hordal checks a bear cage on July 31 at the Hay River Golf Club, where a bear was spotted on the course. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"From now on, bears are trying to put on weight to get them through the winter," Hordal explained.

Being opportunistic animals, he said bears will take advantage of any food source that's available, such as garbage around a home or food left around a campsite.

"If they don't get food, they'll usually continue on," he said of the bears.

Hordal said bears will investigate smells, which is why people should eliminate food attractors, such as garbage, pet food, bird seed and uncleaned barbecues.

"We'd like to keep them on wild food, such as berries," Hordal said, adding that would limit the interaction the animals have with people.

Hordal takes various actions to keep bears away from people, such as scaring the animals away with rubber bullets or catching them in cages and relocating them about 100-kilometres away from town.

However, if they are attracted to garbage or food around campsites more than a couple of times, he said they are pretty hard to deter.

"The best thing is to prevent them from getting a taste of it," he said.

Hordal said persistently troublesome bears are not relocated, because that would only mean moving the problem elsewhere.

Unfortunately, sometimes a bear has to be destroyed.

"Every situation we come upon, we have to make an assessment," Hordal said. "The first thing is human safety."

Last month, he had to destroy a bear that was walking from one garbage dumpster to another in downtown Hay River.

"We didn't get into this to shoot bears," he said. "We're there for the wildlife. That's why we got these jobs."

Hordal said it's unfortunate when a bear has to be destroyed. "That's the last thing we look at doing."

In all, four bears have been destroyed by renewable resources officers this summer in the Hay River area, including the one downtown by Hordal.

Hordal has been a renewable resources officer with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources since 1987.

Born and raised in Yellowknife, he worked in Inuvik, Fort Liard and Fort Simpson before moving to Hay River.

"I always liked wildlife when I was growing up and being in the outdoors," he said, adding he always wanted to work with wildlife.

Before becoming a renewable resources officer, he was a fisheries officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Hordal, 47, explained a renewable resources officer has a wide range of duties, including working with the forest fire program, forest management, environmental protection and checking trap lines.

"It's very wide-ranging," he said, adding the job of a renewable resources officer is never boring.