10/08/2014 06:37 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST

Yukon man convicted of harassing groggy bear by pouring water on it

WHITEHORSE - Pouring water on a sleeping black bear has earned a Yukon woodcutter a conviction for harassing wildlife.

Romeo Leduc, 57, was fined $2,000 in territorial court and ordered to complete a hunter education and ethics course before he can get a new hunting licence.

Leduc was charged with two counts of harassing wildlife in connection with the incident on April 15.

Judge Donald Luther did not accept that Leduc was guilty of a second charge of harassment for standing around with his dog, watching the groggy bruin emerge from its den.

Court heard Leduc was frustrated by forestry officials who ordered a 300-metre buffer around the bear den in the middle of his woodlot after the woodcutter informed them of the den in September 2013.

Leduc, who is from Haines Junction, publicized his frustrations in a local newspaper last January, saying not having access to firewood in that area would cost him $50,000.

Luther heard how Leduc's frustration with the buffer grew through the winter months, and that he made no secret of his intention to deal with the bear that had cost him so much money.

Steven Dyck, Leduc's friend and neighbour, testified Leduc asked him to accompany him to the bear den, where he planned to pour water on the bear and shoot it.

Dyck said he only agreed to go along because he feared his friend would get hurt, and was armed with a shotgun and a camera to take pictures.

Leduc brought along two 20-litre pails of water and poured them into the den, Dyck said, as he provided evidence about 40 pictures submitted as evidence.

Dyck said the bear appeared groggy as it gradually stuck its head out and then starting running toward him. He said he fired a shot in front of the bruin, which climbed a tree.

After watching the bear for about 20 minutes, Leduc and Dyck left the area, with the bear was still in the tree, court heard.

"Picture 16, the bear is almost all the way out of the den," Dyck told the judge as he flipped through the photographs, noting the time was 9:39 a.m.

"Picture 19, the bear is starting to become more alert. Twenty-one, the bear is starting to wake up and become more oriented," he said.

"Twenty-three and 24 are zoomed-in pictures of the bear and you can see water on his forehead and wet fur. Twenty-five, the bear is really starting to become more alert and 25 and 26, the bear comes running at me and I fired a shot from my shotgun in front of it and in 26 the bear is climbing the tree."

"I felt bad for a few days after that, that we woke up the bear," Dyck told the judge.

Dyck said he went hunting later that spring and shot a black bear for its meat and hide. It was when he was reporting his kill to conservation officer Russel Oborne that he mentioned the bear den story in passing, he said.

Oborne testified he began his investigation immediately, invited Dyck into his office and asked if he was willing to provide a statement, and that he agreed.

Oborne also visited the den site, and recovered a spent 12-gauge shotgun shell.

Conservation officer Ryan Hennings, manager of enforcement for Environment Yukon, said he interviewed Leduc in August.

The woodcutter calmly provided all the details during an interview outside his home, Hennings said, adding the woodcutter took him to the bear den, about 700 metres from where he lived.

Hennings said Leduc told him that he would not do anything different in hindsight, other than pick a different partner to accompany him.

In her submissions on sentencing, Crown lawyer Julie Desbrisay noted the buffer did not prevent Leduc from conducting firewood business.

She said Leduc's actions could have led to human conflict because the bear that should still have been sleeping was forced to find food when snow was still on the ground.

The Wildlife Act notes that wildlife offences prompted by a commercial agenda are particularly aggravating, Desbrisay said.

She said that in February, forestry officials eventually agreed with Leduc's request to shrink the buffer to 100 metres but he wasn't notified until a month later.

The judge said prompt notification may have helped simmer down Leduc's frustration.

In dismissing the second count of harassment, he noted it was Dyck who fired the shot toward the bear and that standing around watching the bear after it emerged from its den did not support a second conviction of harassment. (Whitehorse Star)