Pulling the trigger wasn’t easy for Terry Sterling when a fowl-eating bear returned to his Metchosin farm.
“It was the last thing I wanted to do,” Sterling said. “It was either me or someone else.”
The bear bolted through the farm repeatedly for two months. The farmer’s last resort was shooting it.
Sterling raises free range fowl, including chickens, duck and turkeys. In all his years farming it’s the first time he has had an issue with bears coming after the birds.
“He was in good shape and he (appeared) well fed,” Sterling said of the bear.
The tragic tale started in July, when the bear started chasing the chickens and ducks. The first time Sterling pulled his rifle was Aug. 6 when the chickens alerted him.
“I’ve had chickens since I was 12, they let me know with the tempo and tone,” said the 56-year-old. “I knew a predator was there, but I thought it was a raccoon, hawk or a mink.”
When Sterling saw the bear he let out a warning shot.
“I shot at the bear to protect my livestock. I shot just behind him. I just wanted to scare him,” he said.
The bear’s reaction worried him.
“I though he’d be out of there like ‘bam’,” Sterling said smacking his hands together. “But he didn’t gallop off; he just briskly ran off. I’ve scared bears before, this was not normal.”
Sterling came home after a farmer’s market Aug. 11, to find two turkey carcasses. Aug. 26 he was up early harvesting vegetables when he heard his chickens alert him to a predator.
When he saw it was the same bear, he shot it to protect the animals.
“I just felt that there was no alternative,” Sterling said.
Throughout the two months of bear trouble Sterling was in contact with the conservation officers. They unsuccessfully set up a bear trap on his property and nearby farms trying to capture the problem bear. A neighbour also took a shot at a bear July 8.
Conservation officers told Sterling to put the chickens behind an electric fence to keep them safe.
“Electric fencing is the least you can do,” said Peter Pauwels, conservation officer. “If a bear gets at taste for (chickens) then it will keep coming back for the easy pickings.”
Sterling opposes the idea but, said if other bears attack his livestock he will consider either electric fencing or not raising chickens all together.
Sterling knows he lives in bear country and has farmed there for 25 years. In the past five he started having incidents with a bear, but mostly over fruit trees. It was the first time – the bears attacked his animals.
Since the bear was killed there have been no more bear-related incidents on his property.
There has been a rise in both bear and cougar sightings in the area and residents are asked to keep livestock in barns overnight.
“No livestock has been killed in Highlands for a few months now,” said conservation officer Peter Pauwels, adding livestock bordering Highlands has been killed by cougars recently.
Cougars hunt at night and Pauwels suggests people take extra caution in the evening.
“Children should not be out by themselves when it starts to get dark,” Pauwels said. “There have always been cougars in Highlands and there always will be. People should always be cautious.”