There was significant grizzly activity in the area where missing Kitimat resident Patric Graham’s body was found.
Conservation Officer Service’s Sgt. Tracy Walbauer said, however, that while a large mature female grizzly and two sub-adults were destroyed by COS last week, he couldn’t confirm that their deaths were related to the discovery of Graham’s body.
“At this time there is no reason to believe a bear caused the death of the deceased,” said Walbauer last week.
On Monday night Walbauer attended a District of Kitimat council meeting where he faced hard-hitting questions from council, relating to the discovery of Graham’s body and the destruction of the grizzly bears.
“We were called in to assist and look at the scene. There was bear activity at the scene, so we provided guidance, direction and over-watch while the RCMP dealt with forensics,” said Walbauer.
After the initial investigation, he said it was decided to capture whatever animals were coming to the scene. The area was cordoned off, snares set and trail cameras put up to monitor activity.
After four days of monitoring the scene he said it was decided to destroy the three bears.
“At this point there is nothing else that we could determine was coming to the scene,” added Walbauer.
Kitimat RCMP Media Relations Officer Const. Rebekah Draht confirmed that the remains were those of 58-year-old Graham, who was last seen at 11.30 p.m. on September 4.
She said Graham’s body was found by members of Kitimat Search and Rescue (KSAR) in a wooded area “not far from an urban part of the Kildala neighbourhood”.
“After a detailed review of a missing person file by the RCMP and Kitimat Search and Rescue, a strategic search plan identifying eight possible search areas was developed,” said Draht.
After being briefed by the RCMP, KSAR search managers Kelly Marsh, Manny Arruda and Morgan Williams met on Friday, October 6, to draw up a search plan.
“The last time Graham was seen was at home. We based our search on that information, targeting eight areas he was known to visit,” said Arruda.
The following day, a team of 22 KSAR members gathered at Riverlodge at 8 a.m., where a command centre was established to co-ordinate the team’s search activities.
The search area was divided into grids and each team was dispatched to thoroughly search the high probability areas, most of which were in the area around Kildala.
“At the first four search areas we didn’t find anything.
“However, on their second assignment, one of the teams found the remains at about 10.30 a.m.,” said Arruda.
He said the team immediately alerted the command centre and the RCMP arrived soon after to take over the scene.
He added that the five members of the team will receive counselling, which is standard protocol for search teams involved in the recovery of bodies.
“For some of the members, this was their first search,” said Arruda.
Walbauer said while the COS had seen a spike in wildlife complaints throughout his area of operation, with 54 black bear and 32 grizzly bear complaints as of January, the figures weren’t higher than those reported over a five-year period.
“The spike is related to what is out there for them for food and is significantly reflective of the (poor) berry crop that developed this year,” said Walbauer, pointing to a scarcity of food as reason for the influx of bears into the residential areas of Kitimat.
Councillor Larry Walker asked whether people were to blame for the number of bears being destroyed this year.
Walbauer confirmed that the majority of incidents were related to human activities and that more care needed to be shown by Kitimat residents with regards keeping their yards clean and properly disposing of their garbage.
“We have some bylaws that could probably be tightened up in terms of when garbage is put out and the type of containment for garbage,” said Walbauer.
He added that in 2017 alone, COS had destroyed over ten black bears that were habituated to eating garbage, rummaging in compost bins and eating out of fruit trees.
He said in addition six grizzly bears were destroyed, three in Kitamaat Village recently and the three destroyed last week.