A Grizzly Double Homicide in the Yukon

A Grizzly Double Homicide in the Yukon

A 37-year-old mother and teacher, Valerie Theoret, and her 10-month-old daughter, Adele, were killed by a grizzly bear outside a cabin in the Yukon on Nov. 26. She was on maternity leave, reported CTV News.

The child’s father, Gjermund Roesholt, returned to the cabin around 3 p.m. after a day spent on a trapline. As he approached the cabin the bear charged. He shot and killed the grizzly and then found Valerie and his daughter dead.

We say that bears “maul” people. This is how a story on this tragedy at put it. Often that is a good description, as many bear attacks aren’t predatory. The bear is often trying to brutally diminish what it sees as a threat. It is not important to the bear in such cases whether it kills the person or not.

This isn’t likely to be such a case. If it were, the bear would have left the scene and wouldn’t have likely killed the child. The area around the cabin must have been rife with the odor of humans. This bear attack was more likely predatory. The bear was guarding its kill when Roesholt approached the cabin. As these people had a lot of experience in the Canadian bush, he was prepared. Valerie Theoret, who press reports say had been at the cabin for months, likely didn’t expect trouble so close to the cabin. The odds were way against this tragedy occurring.

The bloody brutality of this scene is too gruesome to contemplate.

Undoubtedly, this horrifying bear attack will affect the political narrative always at play with the management of grizzlies in Canada and in the American West. This attack occurred in a wild place where the hunting of grizzlies is still allowed, though in the province to the south (British Columbia) politics has barred game managers from using hunting as a tool to control bear populations and to thereby instill a fear of humans into grizzly bears. If anyone doubts hunting has that affect, consider how easy it is to walk up on a black bear in a national park where hunting is forbidden, as opposed to how hard it is to do so just outside the park’s boundaries where hunting is used as a game-management tool.

In this case, however, a predatory bear struck in the wilds of the Yukon, a place that does allow grizzlies to be hunted. While on a moose hunt in the same region of the Yukon where this attack occurred, I had a grizzly false-charge me as it circled in the bush growling and snapping its jaws. My guide and I backed out with our rifles ready. Later, I recall as we approached a moose I’d killed the evening before to retrieve the rest of the meat, I began shouting, “I have a grizzly tag,” which was true, but I was shouting this to be funny and to chase away fear as we went in with our rifles loaded and ready. That’s life in grizzly country.

The point in bringing this up here is reality must be confronted honestly. Some Yukon guides and other residents have already expressed the fear that the misguided grizzly policy in British Columbia, as this CBC story points out, might come north on political winds. Such an anti-hunting policy would make the situation even more dangerous in Yukon grizzly country.

I’ve also seen this firsthand in British Columbia. I hunted black bears in spring in an area closed to grizzly hunting. (It wasn’t closed province-wide at the time.) We had numerous encounters with grizzlies that obviously had lost their fear of people. One large boar was even hanging out around our cabins and, just before we arrived, had charged the owner. The outfitter later opted to pull out of that area.

Dealing with grizzlies is a complex and dynamic game-management challenge. It’s awesome to be in areas where ursus arctos horribilis walks the ground, just as it is humbling and invigorating to be in the bush where African lions live and hunt. In either place though, it is better when those big predators also respect humans because they know people can also kill them.

Still, what happened to Valerie and Adele Theoret had little to do with all of that. They had the grave misfortune of bumping into an animal that for some reason saw them as prey.

“It appears they [Theoret and Adele] had been out for a walk when the incident occurred, sometime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.,” the Yukon coroner’s office said in a news release.

The family had been spending the last three months at the cabin trapping at Einarson Lake, CBC News reported. Remy Beaupre, a friend of Theoret, said, “It’s a big, big blow. Everybody is totally devastated right now. Lots of our friends are gathering tonight to mourn a little bit and support each other a little bit.”