The Valhalla Wilderness Society said in a media release a local runner got more than he bargained for during an afternoon jog through the Rail-Trail in the small West Kootenay community of Hills, BC, during the Victoria Day long weekend.
Francis Levasseur was jogging on the railbed trail near a friend’s farm when he came into contact with a less-than-hospitable black bear.
Initially, there was no interaction between the bear and Levasseur.
However, a short time later the bear, from 100 meters, charged Levasseur, who then started screaming, yelling and waving a stick. When the noise idea failed, Levasseur quickly scampered for the first tree.
“(The bear) very nearly grabbed him when it climbed a nearby tree as Francis desperately shinnied up the tree that helped save his life,” said Wayne McCrory of the Valhalla Wilderness Society.
“Fortunately, (Levasseur’s) escape tree was too small for such a large bear to climb,” McCrory added.
“Once when the bear pretended to leave, Francis came down the tree only to have the bear rush in and try to get him again.”
This game of leaving and returning by the bear continued for approximately the next two hours, keeping Levasseur clinging to the tree.
Just prior to darkness setting in, and with Levasseur running out of strength, Mat Phillips, head of the Hills Emergency Services Society (HESS), stepped outside his farm house above the Rail-Trail and heard a distant cry for help.
“(Mat) grabbed his bear spray and machete and with his dog, safely located Francis,” McCrory explained.
(He) drove (Levasseur) home and then reported the incident to the RCMP and Conservation Officers (COs). The COs said they would not be able to make it until morning.”
McCrory said the rescue was all in a day’s work for volunteer HESS First Responders, formed by this small remote community nestled in prime grizzly and black bear country at the head of Slocan Lake.
This area between Nakusp and New Denver is where residents deal with emergency issues like highway accidents, forest fires until help arrives, and action with their own house fires.
McCrory said after the rescue, all seemed well to Phillips until Levasseur contacted the HESS to say he had seen an overturned blue bike further up the Rail-Trail and that there could be another person out there possibly injured or treed by the same bear.
McCrory, a local bear biologist Wayne and former head of HESS, and Phillips decided to investigate as the authorities had still not arrived.
Armed with McCrory's .12-gauge bear research gun, the two found the supposed bike was a ski-do left out from the winter that had been flipped over by a bear.
McCrory, who had done numerous bear incident site investigations during his career, checked the area where Levasseur had just been treed and concluded that since he found no animal carcass that the bear might have been feeding on, and no cubs in the area, that the danger bear was as a predator; something so rare that a study showed that only 56 people had been killed by predaceous black bears in all of North America in over a century since 1900.
Concerned for the safety of others who might also be out on the trail, McCrory and Phillips consulted with the RCMP and then went back and posted unofficial closure signs with bright flagging at either end of the trail.
McCrory said Conservation Officers arrived the next morning but could not locate the bear.
Unfortunately, CO's could not officially close the trail since that had to be done by Recreation Sites and Trails BC (RSTBC) - the official BC trail authority.
Since it was the long weekend and RSTBC would not be in their office for another two days, this left McCrory and the local trail society to informally post more signage. The lack of an immediate legal closure did not sit well with McCrory, a bear risk management specialist who has worked on numerous case studies of injurious bear incidents with national park wardens and BC provincial parks.
He has since asked the Minister in Victoria to revise the law so that COs have the legal authority to close any Crown lands when a serious bear or other wildlife issue threatens public safety.
As for the lucky and relieved survivor Francis Levasseur: "I am so grateful to Mr. Phillips for rescuing me. I could have died. I will never go out in the bush again without bear spray."
The Rail-Trail near Hills, BC, between Nakusp and New Denver was closed following the bear confrontation the Victoria Day long weekend. — Submitted photo