Alberta grizzly bear shooting sparks debate on safety

High Prairie, Alta. — The shooting of a grizzly bear preying on cattle in the Peace district has re-ignited the debate over how far ranchers can go to protect themselves and their livestock.

Leroy Scott Peats of the Whitemud Provincial Grazing Reserve near Dixonville, Alta., has been charged for allegedly shooting a female grizzly and two cubs on that land in late August, according to Brendan Cox, spokesperson with the Alberta Fish and Wildlife enforcement branch.

He said Peats faces one count of hunting wildlife during a closed season and one count of unlawful possession of wildlife.

The incident was brought up at an Alberta Beef Producers meeting in High Prairie earlier this month. Some ranchers are urging producers to support Peats when he goes to court.

Kaitlin McLachlan, a rancher and patron of the reserve, brought the issue to the attention of the Alberta Beef Producers by writing a letter.

She said her main concern is the safety of ranchers.

“In the last couple of years, there have been more grizzlies and I know that (Peats) has been charged by one when he was riding a horse,” she said.

“If he ends up not being our pasture manager, I don’t want that job because it doesn’t seem safe.”

The allegations against Peats haven’t been proven in court. The maximum fine for killing a grizzly in Alberta is $100,000 or two years in prison because it is a protected species. Officers can sometimes trace a bear’s death because some animals have had tracking devices installed.

Peats did not respond to interview requests in time for this issue.

The issue involves more than just a growing number of grizzly bears, McLachlan said.

In Peats’ case, she said wildlife officers didn’t seem willing to work with ranchers to find a solution.

In response to ranchers’ concerns, Cox said the government is working to protect grizzlies while also ensuring people’s safety.

“Living with wildlife can be challenging,” he said. “We’re working with livestock and communities to prevent losses of livestock.”

Still, producers are having a hard time dealing with wildlife officers, John MacArthur of Alberta Beef Producers said following the High Prairie meeting.

“Our main contention is these wildlife officers didn’t do their job and they didn’t look after this bear.”

The issue is wide-ranging and affects ranchers across the province, said Jeff Bectell, co-ordinater for the carnivores and communities program for the Waterton Biosphere Reserve.

He said more can be done to satisfy both ranchers and wildlife officers.

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