01/30/2014 11:26 EST | Updated 04/02/2014 05:59 EDT

Black Bear Accidentally Mulched By Oil And Gas Company

FILE - In this April 22, 2012 , file photo, a black bear grazes in a field in Calais, Vt. Vermont Fish and Wildlife officials say the state's black bear population is estimated at slightly more than 6,000, higher than the goal sought for the state's big game management plan, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

An oil and gas company is investigating after one of its contractors accidentally ran over and killed a black bear near Fort Nelson last week.

The black bear was hibernating in a shallow, unidentified den approximately 100 kilometres northwest or Fort Nelson, in the Liard Basin. A contractor for the oil and gas exploration company Apache was performing seismic work and land clearing when a piece of mulching equipment ran over the den. The bear was killed instantly.

The company notified the Fort Nelson First Nation, which requested Apache stop work in the area.

"We requested that there be a plan going forward so that this never happens again. The fact that a bear was killed as a result of oil and gas activities in our territory is absolutely unacceptable to our community and to who we are as a people," said Lana Lowe of the Fort Nelson First Nation Lands Department.

"Bears are an important species, not only ecologically but spiritually," she said.

"We view the bears as our cousins. In many ways, this has been treated as a fatality, not a mortality."

Lowe says the stop-work ban lifted Thursday, except in areas where there is a high probability of encountering a bear den — particularly swamps.

She added that the company and First Nation are now working together to map out where those high probability areas are. This could include using infrared technology and local knowledge to locate and mark off the bear dens. 

"We took it very seriously and, to Apache's credit, they took it very seriously," said Lowe. 

Apache has confirmed it is working with the Fort Nelson First Nation to develop a plan for identifying bear dens to prevent future deaths. 

The Conservation Officer Service has investigated the bear's death, and calls it an "unfortunate accident."

Apache and its contractor will not face penalties.