Possible death sentence looms for grow-op bears
Published Friday, May 6, 2011 4:29PM PDT
A RCMP officer poses for a photo, as bears walk towards him, near a marijuana grow op in Christina Lake, B.C. on Friday July 30, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/RCMP-HO)
As many as 26 black bears face a possible death sentence if conservation officers find they're still reliant on the dog food a Christina Lake man fed them for a decade, B.C.'s environment minister says.
The docile bears were discovered during a police raid on a suspected marijuana grow-op in August. The animals acted like friendly pets -- one lounged on an RCMP cruiser and watched as the officers did their work -- and police suspected they had been trained to guard the drug operation.
Property owner Allan Wayne Piche has admitted that he fed dog food to the bears for years, but denies they were trained to guard the grow-op. Authorities considered destroying the animals to protect the public, but eventually agreed to let Piche continue feeding them on a reduced schedule until they went into hibernation.
Environment Minister Terry Lake told ctvbc.ca that the bears will be waking up from their slumber any day now, and officers will be watching Piche's property to see what happens.
"They'll be monitoring and visiting the property and looking for signs of the bears," Lake said.
"We are hopeful that the bears will seek food in a natural way.... But the history with bears that are habituated to food is not promising."
If the bears return to the property in search of food, it's possible that they could be relocated, but Lake says that isn't always an option because bears tend to return to the area where they were fed.
"Unfortunately, one of the options has to be killing the bears. This is why this is so sad," he said.
"They relied entirely on this gentleman and his family in order to be fed."
In a video released after news of the bears spread, Piche said he started by feeding a single old bear he sensed was looking for food, and the situation snowballed from there. He has now been ordered to fence off his property to stop the bears from returning.
Piche has pleaded guilty to one count of feeding dangerous wildlife under the Wildlife Act, and makes his next court appearance on Tuesday to fix a date for sentencing.
The charge carries a maximum fine of $100,000 and up to a year in jail for first-time offenders.
During their raid on Piche's property last summer, police also discovered 2,300 marijuana plants.
Piche has been charged with production and possession of a controlled substance in connection with the grow-op, along with Billi Jo Ann Vickery, Richard Vickery and Kathleen Wickie.
They are scheduled to make their next appearances in Grand Forks provincial court on Dec. 13.