A Gull Lake couple was scolded by a judge Thursday for messing around with Mother Nature by feeding bears sunflower seeds, pig fat and doughnuts over two summers -- despite being ordered by provincial wildlife officials to stop.
Peter Chernecki and his wife Judy were in provincial court Thursday morning to answer to a charge under the Wildlife Act for secretly feeding bears on a neighbour's property during the summer of 2011 even though they'd been served an order the previous summer to stop it.
Provincial court Judge Tim Preston was told the couple had been feeding bears for about 17 years.
"You may feel it's your responsibility to feed the bears, but it's not," Preston told Peter Chernecki. "Feeding the bears the way you did is not in the public interest. You can go to jail for feeding the bears."
The maximum penalty Chernecki faced was a $10,000 fine or six months in jail, but Preston handed him a discharge on the condition that he and his wife never feed the bears again.
Preston also said bears have been around long before cottagers and should be able to survive on their own without being fed a diet that's better than they'd find in the woods.
Crown attorney Eva Marciniak told court wildlife officials believe the food the bears were dining on courtesy of the Cherneckis artificially improved their reproductive rates -- healthier female bears meant more cubs being born. That meant the bear population around Gull Lake, just north of Selkirk before Grand Beach, was too high for the area to support.
As a result, 13 problem bears were put down in the summer of 2010 and 11 bears were euthanized in the summer of 2011, Marciniak said.
Wildlife officials initially caught the Cherneckis feeding the bears by putting up a secret camera to record them in the act.
The Cherneckis said outside court they were only doing what they believed was right to help the bears after a nearby garbage dump closed, and to keep the bears from eating their neighbours' garbage.
"Peter and his wife have a love of animals, particularly bears," lawyer Jay Prober said in their defence.
Preston said while it was noble of the Cherneckis to care so much for the bears, feeding them reduces the bears' fear of people and poses a public risk.
"I just don't want you to feel it's your responsibility to feed the bears," Preston said. "Quite the contrary."
When the Cherneckis were initially charged in 2010, a Natural Resources officer discovered 64 dogs in unsanitary conditions on the property. The dogs were caked in dirt and their own feces, had urine burns on their paws and were being kept in a window-less garage. About three dozen of the 64 dogs were euthanized because they were too sick.
The couple was charged with 19 counts under the Animal Care Act. Those charges are still before the courts.