Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Aged Grizzly euthanized after killing Twin Butte area sheep

Ron Schmidt and T. Lucas photos

Warning: some of the images used in this article (below the "read more" line) may be disturbing to some people.  Reader discretion is advised.
  • Any bear or wildlife concerns can be reported to the 24-hour Report A Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800.
Toni Lucas - Two separate Grizzly bear attacks claimed the lives of six sheep from one Twin Butte area property between the dates of July 22 - August 1. Landowner Ron Schmidt called Fish and Wildlife officers after he found one sheep dead on his property on July 22 and again when he found five sheep dead  the morning of Sunday, July 31. His property is located ten minutes northeast of Waterton Park, a two minute drive east of Twin Butte in Bear Management Area support zone (BMA 6).  The bear was ultimately trapped and euthanized by Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers.

Schmidt said in the first incident a single sheep went missing from his corral. During the second incident a bear tore a hole in his barn door during the early morning hours of July 31 and then killed two sheep within the barn before killing the remaining three who had escaped into the confines of the attached corral. An older Grizzly was caught in one of the traps set by Fish and Wildlife officers early Monday morning, August 1.

Alberta Environment and Parks Press Secretary Kyle Ferguson said  "Government values wildlife and is working hard to avoid human bear conflicts through our Bear Smart Program, however public safety is always our first priority. Given the estimated age, noticeable tooth wear and his physical state, and considering the bear is a demonstrated threat to livestock, our response guide directs that this bear be euthanized. The removal of this individual bear will not have measurable impacts on grizzly bear recovery in Alberta."

Twin Butte area landowner Ron Schmidt
Schmidt said he retired from the nearby Shell Waterton plant in 1996, where he worked as a millwright and mechanic. At that point in time he decided to downsize his herd of cattle. Recently widowed after the passing of his wife Elaine, he decided to raise sheep to keep himself busy, and to keep the grass down on his property. He said he paid $2400 for six purebred Rambouillet bred ewes in June of this year.

Schmidt explained that six weeks ago his dog woke him up with loud barking. which he believed at the time to be a predator, judging by the way the dog was responding. He then rushed out making noise to scare off the intruder, wearing his nightclothes and carrying a gun and a flashlight. He said he thought to himself, 'What am I doing?' Not only is it illegal to shoot a grizzly bear unless he is personally in imminent danger, he also felt he was offering himself as a easy prey substitute. "I am not against bears, I love them. I don't have a problem with wildlife. But when they become a problem, they need to be dealt with." The dog quieted, so Schmidt thought the noise scared off the intruder.  This was shortly after he had acquired the sheep, 

On Friday, July 22, he found one sheep missing from his corral. He found the carcass later on a trail on his property, south of his barn and corrals. He reported the kill to officials and left it for them to investigate. He said the carcass was pulled into the tall grass and partially buried the next day.  "That was the first sheep kill. If they (bears) are not problematic, I don't care if they roam right through my yard. It's when they do become a problem..."

Barn and corral area
"This morning, (July 31) I am walking out going to the corner of my barn, out toward my main entrance door into the barn and I see this plywood laying on the ground, and I though, 'Oh my God, he is back'." He had noticed the sheep were a little unsettled the night before as he was putting then away for the night. "I never even twigged to it. I got them in without much trouble at all." He said he found three of the sheep dead in the corral, and two killed inside the barn. Seasonal Problem Wildlife Technician Dana Hazeldine, Claresholm Fish and Wildlife Officer Dustin Hodnefield, Crowsnest Pass Fish and Wildlife District Officer John Clarke, and Pincher Creek Fish and Wildlife District Officer Paul Johnson were on the property investigating and setting up snares and traps by early afternoon on Sunday.  Schmidt said he called neighbours to let them know there was a bear kill on his property. "That is what this (contacting the Pincher Creek Voice) is about primarily, is to get the awareness out. Keep your head up, if you are going outside. We have had this guy come through for eight or nine years, but never this early." 

Broken doorway of sheep barn

"It's a big, heavy door, two layers of plywood, and he ripped a hole right through it, and went right in. I am just sick about it. They were nice ewes. I tell you right now, I guarantee my house door isn't anywhere near as strong as my barn door. If he smells the dog food which I have inside my porch... to what degree do we have to go to protect ourself? I admit it, I am fearful. How many times do I walk into my buildings, my Quonset, sometimes in the dark when I come home? I have to be honest, it's scary."

Barrel trap
Schmidt said he believed this particular Grizzly has visited his property repeatedly for the last eight or nine years.  He said he has a history of destroyed dog feeders, a young calf  that was killed in the past, as well as the recent sheep incidents. "I could almost set a clock by him. Every three weeks, starting in September." He said the visits would stop around hibernation time. Schmidt's dog is a working animal and sleeps outside. He said last fall he was advised by a Wildlife Officer to keep his dog food inside the house. That has changed how he feeds his dog and how the food is contained to try and reduce attractants for any bear.  He has a metal clad barn with a wooden door, and steel fencing for his corral. 

"Today, they were very polite and helpful," Schmidt said after he talked with all four Wildlife Officers who came out to his property to try and trap the bear.

"He (Officer Clarke) said when they are breaking into buildings to do a kill that is not your ordinary kill, that's a trouble bear. So they might deal with this one differently, I just don't know." said Schmidt. Seasonal Problem Wildlife Technician Dana Hazeldine walked Schmidt through how to claim for compensation for the animals he had lost. The officers found claw marks and bear scat which showed a diet heavy with berry eating, and no visible meat. Schmidt was a little concerned about the traps and snares, as he was expecting two of his eleven grandchildren to visit later on the same day. His daughter Karen was on her way with two of his grandchildren, 11 year old Carter and 7 year old Jackson. He said his grandchildren are adventurous and curious children and that he would warn them to stay away from the traps. "I'm okay dealing with it this way," he said,  meaning setting traps rather than trying to shoot a hunting bear during a confrontation.

Pincher Creek Fish and Wildlife District Officer Paul Johnson explained to Schmidt that the snares and traps were humane devices and are carefully set to minimize damage to any animal caught in them. The team set Aldrich leg snares and a barrel bear trap, and used some of the meat from the ewes to bait the area. They had brought additional bait in case it was required. Officers did warn it is possible to trap an animal which is not the target animal, including a non-target bear, as the bait will attract various wildlife.

Schmidt said "I'll bet the farm he'll be back tomorrow morning, just like the last time." The bear was indeed trapped the next day, on Monday morning.  

Above and below: Barrel bear trap and subdued Grizzly (R. Schmidt photos)

A trap was set close to the trail, one closer to the corral, and a barrel trap was set near the barn itself. The bear took the bait by the trail, but Schmidt said, "He didn't step into any of the snares there, he missed them." The Grizzly did ultimately step into a snare and was captured close to the corral. The male grizzly bear was evaluated by Fish and Wildlife officers as being between 18 and 20 years old, weighing 430 pounds, and was missing three of his canine teeth. Officers cleaned up the area and removed all the attractants, including the dead sheep. Schmidt was advised that the disposition of the bear would be decided in Edmonton. Officers told him there was a possibility the bear may be moved, however if it was suffering, ill, injured, or infirm it may be put down. Schmidt  said "He has clearly crossed a line. Killing is one thing, out in the open, it is a bear. But to physically break into a building and kill, that is crossing a line."

Schmidt, 69 years old, acquired this section of land in 1980 with his wife Elaine. Together they raised four children at their home. Elaine passed away approximately two years ago. Schmidt said he sees black bears roaming on his property several times a year, as well as deer, moose, and other wildlife. He added he has talked to long-time livestock producers in the area and the patterns of habitation have changed. "If you saw a bear back then, it was rarely. There's more bear here now than there has been for, I don't now, how many years, 50 anyway." He said he has found bear scat on his property and once inside his Quonset.

According to Environment and Parks Press Secretary Kyle Ferguson, "There are a number of bear incidents in the Twin Butte area each year because of the number of bears that use the area and the interface with private lands and livestock there.  No other recent human-bear conflicts in the area have been reported. The advanced age, poor health and teeth condition of this particular bear was likely the reason it was preying on the sheep."

Alberta Environment and Parks collaborates with a number of enforcement partners as well as groups like the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association.  Livestock producers can be compensated for confirmed losses of cattle, sheep, goats, and swine.  Click here to find more information on the compensation program.

Alberta Environment and Parks Provincial Carnivore Specialist Paul Frame confirmed that the Grizzly bear study for BMA 6 conducted by Dr. Andrea Morhouse (see also links at the bottom of this article) is concluded and the study is now continuing north of Highway 3 in BMA 5.  He would like to remind people in the area that even though the study has been concluded the government would like to keep ongoing accurate data.  Carnivore sightings can be reported to the 24-hour Report A Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800.   "The Government of Alberta really does appreciate the efforts livestock producers and private landowners have made to assist with Grizzly bear recovery in that part the world.  We try to acknowledge it every opportunity we get."

Bear scat
Schmidt plans to get more sheep in the future. "They are nice, and they kept things tidy, chewed down. I am thankful he is captured, and will be taken care of, accordingly. We won't have to worry anymore, at least until the next one appears, anyway."

Photos by T. Lucas except where noted.

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