An unbearable tale of human/bear conflicts

Bear/human conflicts can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions, says a Nanaimo areas conservation officer.

Bears mate in May and June to time the births of their cubs when they are preparing a den for the winter.

It’s a survival tactic, like finding easy food.

Combine the search for a mate with a taste for garbage and other easy food sources, such as bird feeders, and bears and humans start having run-ins, especially in urban/wild interface areas where human neighbourhoods encroach into a bear’s regular stomping grounds.

“When they’re doing this we get a rash of sightings and bears coming into interface areas and even across the highway into town,” said Steve Ackles, Nanaimo region field conservation officer.

Human/bear encounters are average this year with around 250 calls, ranging from bear sightings, bear encounters and a small percentage of nuisance bears between Chemainus and Buckely Bay since April 1.

Of bears that wander into human neighbourhoods, a few will become habituated to garbage, fruit crops, pet food and bird feeders.

Some bears quickly become addicted to what amounts to easy meals and even become aggressive if confronted. The situation can lead to homeowners and pets being injured or the bear destroyed.

Ackles said he currently has one trap set in Nanaimo’s Jingle Pot Road area for a bear that has become too comfortable around humans.

He said the toughest part of his job can be educating homeowners about bear safety and how to manage trash and other attractants.

“If they’re not managing their attractants, it almost seals the bear’s  fate,” he said.  “It just moves closer into town, it’s behaviour goes from being afraid of humans to just indifferent, to becoming defensive of human food sources.”

Most bears are more shy than dangerous around humans, preferring to run for cover rather than risk their chances with people.

If people keep their garbage and recycling secured, leave bird feeders empty and barbecues clean, bears are not rewarded with easy food and will often return to their native habitats in search of natural food sources.

Predatory bears on the Island are extremely rare, but Ackles has received calls of bears killing livestock.

“The odd goat or sheep will get killed by a bear, but typically they’re scavengers, grazers and browsers,” he said.

Where bears are sighted in neighbourhoods, conservation officers try to educate homeowners on how to secure garbage and other items that attract bears, but can also fine homeowners who fail to comply. The fine is $230 for attracting and feeding dangerous wildlife. Ackles has not issued any tickets, so far.

“Every year we get a bear in one neighbourhood that gets to that point where we have to destroy it,” he said. “Over the years I’ve educated just about every house in that neighbourhood. Well, I’m not educating them any more.”

Ackles won’t say which neighbourhood it is, but he has had to destroy four bears there in the last seven years.

He said following a few safety precautions to prevent attracting bears requires little effort.

For more information about bear behaviour and bear safety the B.C. Ministry of Environment offers the on-line publications: Safety Guide to Bears at Your Home at www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/bear_hm.htm and Safety Guide to Bears in the Wild at www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/bearwld.htm.

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