Hunting incident sparks call for change

Pembertonian wants to see law regarding hunting near a highway changed

Pemberton resident Lana Beattie was shocked last week when she saw a man shooting at a bear while standing just off Highway 99 between Whistler and Pemberton. She was equally shocked a couple of days later, when she learned that an investigation of the incident found that the hunter had done nothing illegal.

Beattie says she thinks other British Columbians should be shocked, too, and get behind her push to have a provincial law dealing with the hunting of wildlife in close proximity to a road or highway changed.

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The incident occurred on Wednesday, May 20. Beattie and her husband were driving home to Pemberton when she remembered that several times in recent weeks, she has seen one particular bear in a particular spot along the highway, feeding on grass.

Beattie has seen the same bear in the same spot for the past two years. I have always enjoyed seeing him/her on my travels to and from work, she wrote in an email to The Question.

As we drove home I said to my husband, 'I wonder if we will see the bear,' and there he was, Beattie wrote. Then I saw something else a hunter standing on the side of the highway with a gun getting ready to fire. My heart sank. My husband honked and tried to scare the bear as he was only 20 yards from the hunter.

The hunter's gun went off, and the pair turned their car around and, as Beattie recounted, tried to discourage the hunter from continuing to hunt the bear. It's scary when you are trying to reason with someone holding a gun.

The pair phoned 911 and was pleased a few minutes later when, after the hunter had returned to his vehicle, they saw a police officer stop and begin to question him. Shortly thereafter, three other police vehicles arrived.

At the time, Beattie was under the impression that hunters weren't allowed to shoot while standing that close to a highway. However, two days later she learned an investigation of the incident by the B.C. Conservation Officers Service had turned up no evidence of illegal activity.

Conservation Officer Chris Doyle on Friday (March 22) said that while discharging a firearm is illegal within municipal boundaries, it's allowed on most parcels of Crown land outside them. Most importantly, he said, the provincial hunting regulations permit hunting near a roadway as long as it's done 15 metres or more from the road's centre line, provided the hunter does not shoot across the road.

What's more, Doyle said, the hunter was firing at the bear during bear-hunting season, which runs April 1 to June 15 and Sept. 10 to Nov. 30.

Our investigation determined that there was no violation, Doyle said.

Beattie said she was shocked to hear that news, so much so that she phoned Sylvia Dolson of the Get Bear Smart Society about how to get law to be changed.

It's just way too close to the side of the highway, she wrote. I want to push this a little further and try andhave the law changed, especially since Bear Smart society is willing to help.

Dolson said that while the Get Bear Smart Society has no official position on hunting because it's not within the society's mandate, she personally is opposed to sport and trophy hunting of any animal. She also agrees that for safety reasons, 15 metres from the centre line is far too close for safety.

Bullets ricochet off trees and other things all the time, Dolson wrote in an email to The Question. In my opinion, it is not safe to discharge a firearm just 15 metres from the middle line of the highway. Many of us hike in areas around Whistler and I know that some places where I hike, I'm (and my dogs) at risk of being shot.

Discharging a firearm is prohibited within the boundaries of most municipalities, including Whistler and Pemberton. Dolson said she thinks the current Highway 99 no-shooting area between West Vancouver and Squamish -which prohibits hunting 400 metres west of the road allowance and one kilometre east of it -should be extended to the areas outside municipal boundaries between Squamish and Pemberton. Currently, the 15-metre rule applies in those areas, she said.

Beattie said she encountered the hunter later at a local gas station and was told that when she and her husband honked their horn, the noise surprised both hunter and prey and that the shot had missed. The man also missed on a second shot. Doyle confirmed that the investigation found neither a bear carcass nor evidence that a bear had been shot there.

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