|Mounties raided a B.C. grow-op to discover bears hanging around, habituated to human food and believed to be guarding it. (File photo)
Conservation officers around Christina Lake, B.C., have been forced to put down 17 bears this year, some of which are suspected to be the former guardians of a marijuana grow-up.
Insp. Aaron Canuel said the number of bears that have to be killed every year varies, but there's been a notable increase this year.
"I can't confirm 100% that they are the grow-op bears, but given the number we've dealt with, I think it's likely that some of them could be," Canuel said.
Allan Wayne Piche was charged with feeding dangerous wildlife last year after police alleged he regularly gave dog food to some two dozen black bears so they would guard his marijuana grow-op.
"These bears were severely habituated, showing very habituated behaviour, lack of fear of people, trying to break into buildings in search of food sources. When bears become like that, it doesn't leave us many options but to humanely euthanize them," said Canuel.
Canuel stressed it isn't conservation officers' first choice to kill the animals.
"Obviously, our intent is for the bears to go back to their natural environment, go back to their natural food sources," he said.
But once they get used to people, it's too late, especially in a tourism hot spot like Christina Lake, which draws many campers.
"They're very opportunistic feeders. Once they learn the behaviour, its almost impossible to ingrain it away from it. They'll continue to search for unnatural food sources."
Black bears are populous, said Canuel, and killing them is not a conservation issue.
However, he said more bears could be saved if people are careful not to attract them to populated areas.
He urged people to clean their barbecues, not leave garbage outside and to pluck the fruits from any nearby fruit trees.
"We can eliminate a lot od this through some education and that's what we're trying to do with residents right now."