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Bear-ly any trouble at all

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Aug 12/02) - A wildlife officer says recent media coverage has overplayed the bear problem in Fort Smith this year.

"I think a lot of it is sensationalism," says Mike Labine, a renewable resources officer with the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development.

"The numbers are fewer than last year," he notes.

However, a local park operator says hungry bears should be shot and he suggests territorial park attendants should be allowed to carry rifles to protect people from the animals.

Phil Norwegian Sr., the contractor-operator of Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park, says he is concerned by the time it would take for a wildlife officer to respond to a dangerous bear incident.

Norwegian recently came upon a bear that tried to enter a park building.

"When they don't leave, they should be shot," he says.

Norwegian believes rubber bullets only make the bears angrier. "It doesn't do any good."

And he says, as a former trapper, he could safely handle a firearm.

Labine says wildlife officers first try to deter bears from coming into a community and only resort to destroying the animal if other means are unsuccessful, he says, adding they are also trained for safe, clean kills.

"We do it professionally," he says.

So far, four bears have been destroyed this year in and around Fort Smith.

Up to 13 bears have been destroyed in previous years.

Labine thinks a recent increase in bear sightings may have been caused by colder weather, which may have triggered the bears into thinking an early fall was near.

They therefore started searching for food to fatten up for winter.

"It turned cold and the bears came out of the woodwork," he says.