In 30 years of being a sheep farmer in Metchosin, Brent Donaldson was lucky enough to avoid having his flock killed by cougars, dogs or bears. July 4 his luck ran out.
That Saturday, he found two dead ewes in a pasture in the Morlan Road and Rocky Point Road area. A week later on July 12, his wife was heading to their barn when she came across a group of skittish sheep who couldn’t wait to leave their fenced area. They shuffled aside to reveal a six-month-old lamb that had been killed. Bears are the likely predator.
“It seems like sheep are turning into a delicacy. While deer can run off, our sheep’s whole existence is due to not having predators. It feels like we’re sitting ducks waiting for the next attack to happen,” said Donaldson.
John Buchanan, owner of Parry Bay Sheep Farm, says he’s also lost three recently. As a Metchosin resident since 1969, he’s dealt with cougars, dogs and bears attacking his livestock. His worst year was 2017 when he lost 65 sheep.
“When these attacks happen, we have to consider to stop using certain fields with bushy areas because it opens the risk for bears to sneak on the property.
“When we can’t use our pastures, it tightens our resources,” Buchanan said.
When bears get “particularly bad” conservation officers will try catching them. B.C. Conservation has been known to set traps, place cameras on the property or use dogs to track their scent. According to C.O. Sgt. Scott Norris, most bears don’t return to their kills, compared to cougars that come to feed at least once or twice after a previous kill.
Norris confirmed a bear was in the area due to scat left behind. During the summer months, scents can disappear quickly which makes it hard for dogs to track the elusive hunters.
“We can’t be there to protect livestock 24/7 because this area will always have bears and cougars. We’re not going to eradicate them from Metchosin because while we have a duty to protect public safety, the same thing applies to wildlife species’,” said Norris.
Norris said no bears have been euthanized in Metchosin in 2020.
Conservation has suggested getting guard dogs, installing electric fencing or locking them up at night, which Donaldson and his wife Shelley have done. Each night, they move their nine remaining sheep in with the pigs and horses, as they’ve already built electrical fencing for those livestock.
But Buchanan says the sheer amount of fencing needed for all his properties would take a large chunk out of their bottom line.
“It’s financially impossible for sure. We would have endless miles of fencing to install. Metchosin can only do so much, as this is a problem the province has to help us solve,” said Buchanan.
While the problem begins with sheep being killed by bears, Norris says it could end with those same bears getting habituated to the neighbourhood and developing a taste for garbage.
“Residents need to be aware of bears in the area and manage all attractants, including garbage, recycling, compost [and] birdseed to keep themselves and their animals safe. There’s unfortunately going to be losses, but we can only do so much.”