The BC Conservation Services is pleading with Okanagan residents to remember 'a fed bear is a dead bear.'
Last week Conservation Officer Ken Owens says they were forced to put down a bear in Joe Rich because it was returning, almost daily, to a resident's garbage can.
When they trapped the bear on June 30, they also discovered it had previously been shot.
But Owens says it is important to realize it was not the prior bullet that forced their hand it was the carelessness of neighbours allowing this bear to become garbage-habituated.
“When it comes to black bears, when they get habituated and they get food conditioned, relocation and trans-location does not work,” says Owens. “If can be prevented before though, to not spoil these bears, that's the message that we really have to get out to people.”
In fact this person, who left the garbage out and caused the bear's death was fined under the Wildlife Act. They were issued a Dangerous Wildlife Protection Order, a ticket that can include up to a $575 fine.
“When I go to a home, like this one in Joe Rich, and see that a bear that has been accessing garbage five times over the last two weeks I issue that person a Dangerous Wildlife Protection Order,” says Owens.
Owens says having an attractant accessible to wildlife in a public place, like garbage to a bear, is an offence under the Wildlife Act and conservation officers will hand out fines. “A fed bear is a dead bear,” he repeats again. “When the right things are done, both wildlife and people survive.”
He says when residents get a bear in their backyard they need to understand there is a reason they are there, they need food and you are making it easy.
“A bear's sense of smell is 2,100 times better than ours,” says Owens. “They say a black bear, on average, needs 3,000 calories a day to survive and towards the fall, before hibernation, it can get up to 20,000 calories a day.”
He explains that bird feeders, another common attractant, are popular with bears. One kilogram of bird seed is 4,500 calories, a valuable food source a bear will not forget.
“Bears are very smart, they say their intelligence is that of a 5-year-old child, they do not forget where they obtained a food source,” says Owens.
Conservation even refers to bird feeders and 'bear feeders' in the summer and they recommend that bird feeders are put away from April to November.
Owens says when BC Conservation looks at a whole year of bear complaints, which are typically over 26,000 calls a year, they find there are four main culprits bringing bears into residential areas.
- Bears into garbage
- Bears into fruit trees
- Bears into compost
- Bears into bird feeders
The big story to Owens is that so often these situations with bears can be avoided if residents employed good attractive management.
“They get into garbage and get used to it and it is not good for them. There is bottle caps and glass and tin cans and it is harmful to their mouth, their throat and their digestive system. It is not bear food, but it is an easy calorie intake for them,” says Owens.
He also notes that BC Conservation is frustrated by the lack of government assistance in getting our local communities more bear aware.
“To be honest we have a long ways to go,” says Owens. “Kelowna, West Kelowna, Lake Country, Vernon we are just not bear-aware. Many communities are, but we are not.”
He notes that we do not have bear-resistant garbage cans in the Regional District of Central Okanagan nor do we pay for a WildSafe BC Coordinator. Education personnel that Owens says do not cost a lot of money.
“It is so frustrating because the Regional District has provided residents with these garbage cans, and they are not bear-resistant garbage cans,” says Owens who notes there are communities like Port Coquitlam that have added bear-resistant additions to their garbage cans.
RDCO Communications Officer Bruce Smith says a contractor was brought into town that offered residents a way to make their garbage cans bear-resistant, but no one used them.
“When we brought in the containers initially a private contractor offered to retrofit garbage containers for bear-resistance. But they didn't do enough business to warrant continuing and so they left the area,” explains Smith.
He says the RDCO did not consider getting bear resistant containers in the first place and there is no plan in the foreseeable future of the district investing in bear-resistant cans.
At the end of the day Owens say it is each one of us that can save a bears life and protect ourselves from injury. There are 160,000 bears in our province and every year four to five people are injured by them.