Conservation officer Sgt. James Zucchelli hauls an overflowing garbage bin from the roadside on Upper Bench Road last week. (Mark Brett - Western News)

We are not ‘cold-blooded killers’: Penticton conservation officer

When it’s a matter of public safety, the animals pay the ultimate price

Pulling the trigger of the high-powered rifle to end a life of a wild animal is one of the hardest parts of any conservation officer’s job.

“There’s a belief out there that conservation officers are cold-blooded killers, that they look for every opportunity they can for a bear to show up in the community so we can go kill it,” said Sgt. James Zucchelli of the Penticton office of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth. We are conservation officers but we have public safety as our number one mandate. When the public safety is at risk due to bears, we have to put on that public safety protection hat.”

READ MORE: The many hats of a B.C. conservation officer

For Zucchelli, that especially hits home as a result of his work as a member of an investigative wildlife attack team, and having to euthanize an animal.

“What goes through my head right then is I am saving the potential aggressive impact on a member of the public,” he said. “I have been in situations where I have interviewed people who have been attacked by bears and survived. I’ve also been at autopsies where I’m looking at people and trying to determine how did they died.

“I know the impact of what bears can do and I do not want to see anybody ever have to go through that. For those people who survive, it’s going to affect them for the rest of their lives.”

And going into a highly-charged environment where a bear in a residential area is only compounded when people try to intervene on the bear’s behalf.

That was the case in Coquitlam in late July when the media reported three people were arrested for interfering with a conservation officer.

“We have to be very, very professional with our shots, with our movements, with our tactics. We have a charged situation where not only is the bear elevated in its behaviour but now we have these people in the neighbourhood whose irresponsibility around the attractants that attracted the bears in the first place. They’re all on the bear’s side saying ‘no, you can’t kill that bear, you need to relocate that bear,’” said Zucchelli, who said he could not comment specifically on the Coquitlam matter which remains under investigation. “Then they’re getting in the way and they’re putting themselves and the officers at risk by trying to interfere with the objective of the incident which was to remove garbaged-conditioned, public-safety-threat bears.”

READ MORE: B.C. conservation officers talk bear awareness

He added the only option when it comes to garbage-conditioned, human-habituated bears is euthanization, something no one, especially officers, want to see happen.

“That’s how the bears are programmed (fattening up for the winter). It’s not the bear’s fault. It’s the peoples’ fault who are leaving the garbage out. They’re the ones who are making it difficult for everyone in their community,” said Zucchelli. “Not only are they putting their safety at risk, their pets at risk, their kids are risk, they’re putting our lives at risk.”


 

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Bears that become human habituated are not easily scared away as they lose their natural fear of people, increasing the potential for conflict. (Contributed)

Bears are incredibly powerful when they smell garbage and will do whatever they can to access it including coming out in the middle of the day in residential areas. (Submitted photo)

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