A grizzly bear and her cubs feast on salmon at the Atnarko River in September. Rob Coetzee photo

Bella Coola Valley man attacked by sow grizzly eating from a cherry tree

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said COS Insp. Len Butler

A Bella Coola Valley man has been transported to hospital in Vancouver for further treatment after being attacked by a sow grizzly bear early Tuesday morning.

The victim, whose name has not been released, was coming out of his cabin on Grant Road between Hagensborg and Bella Coola at about 6 a.m. when he startled the grizzly and her three cubs as they were feeding on a cherry tree beside the home, said Conservation Officer Service Insp. Len Butler of the Thompson Cariboo Region.

“Basically when the person came out, the cub dropped out of the tree which is right by his door and the sow was feeding on the cherry tree also, she saw him and basically attacked him immediately. [It was a] very short attack, lasting only a few seconds, but the subject was bitten up pretty good and basically after that the sow and her three cubs just walked away.”

The victim was able to go back into his cabin and get his keys and drive himself to hospital in Bella Coola.

“Which is encouraging when you hear that,” Butler said, noting the man was in stable condition and suffering from wounds to his head, abdomen and leg — something Butler said is very typical of a defensive attack from a grizzly.

Bella Coola conservation officer Steve Hodgson started the investigation immediately, including gathering DNA evidence, and secured the scene to ensure no other public was a risk from the grizzly, while a predator attack team out of Williams Lake was en route to the Bella Coola Valley Tuesday morning to respond to the incident and determine next steps.

Read more: Kayaker mauled by grizzly bear in southeast B.C.

Butler said these types of encounters are exactly what the COS hopes to avoid by educating the public to manage their bear attractants, such as ripe fruit, on their properties. Through the COS residents can even receive free electric fencing for their trees as fruit ripens, and the COS is continually working with communities to make them bear-aware.

“We’re at the point now where there’s just no excuse [for not dealing with bear attractants],” Butler said. “Here is the result when you don’t.”

Read more: Bella Coola sow grizzly destroyed, cub sent to Smithers rehab centre

He said currently there are many grizzly bears in the valley roaming between creeks and rivers feeding on salmon and ripening fruit trees, even walking among homes and through businesses. Meanwhile the valley also has an influx of visitors at this time of year coming to vacation or fish the same areas the bears are in.

“We’ve been waiting, wondering when something was going to happen.”

Butler said they will locate the sow and her cubs and monitor her movements and behaviour and then make a determination on her future after that.

“We try and make the best choice that we can,” Butler said of deciding whether or not to destroy the animals, noting that they do not always put down bears that are only acting defensively.

“Let’s be honest, if the cherry tree wasn’t there, would she be there?”

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