Bears are awakening from winter slumber, and Thompson-Okanagan residents are urged to be ready

The bears are back in town

Chelsea Powrie

Springtime in the Thompson-Okanagan means humans are spending more time outdoors, as well as animals of all kinds — including bears.

According to Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen public works coordinator Zoe Kirk, now is the time for residents up and down the valley to prepare their properties, lest they unwittingly attract hungry, grumpy bears just waking up from a calorie-deficient winter nap.

"We all need to be really aware and look at our yards from a bear's perspective," Kirk said. "The sows will be coming out with not only their cubs from this year, the really young cubs that are born in February, but they also may have some cubs from last year with them from last year."

The first thing on the bears' minds will be finding water and then a meal that packs a punch of calories, and in early spring, their natural scavenging sources like greenery, berries and salmon may not be available yet.

That's when bears turn their ultra-sensitive noses toward towns and cities.

"If a bear has had the opportunity to be a garbage bear, or know that there's parts in the community where they can access garbage before things really start growing and their natural sources become available, they are certainly going to want to get into that garbage," Kirk said.

Bears can lose around 30 per cent of their body mass over their winter sleep, or even more if they become nursing mothers during that time. Kirk said now is the time to start being vigilant with potential attractants — only put garbage and recycling out on the morning of pickup, and ensure backyard composters are clean and working.

"These are just a few things we can do to start making those habits now, so when the majority of the bears come out of their dens, they don't come into our communities and risk conflict with our communities," Kirk said.

"A bear has a nose that's about five times more sensitive than a bloodhound, which means it about 250 times more sensitive than [a human nose] ... that's the biggest mistake homeowners make, is not understanding how strong a sense of smell a bear has."

Taking action now may help keep future bear generations in the region safe — hundreds of bears are euthanized in B.C. each year because they become too comfortable in human communities, often due to the attraction of an easy meal.

Bears are imprinted, patterned animals, and in the springtime when mothers are bringing their babies out from the dens, those cubs are memorizing where to find food next year.

"They know intrinsically, generation after generation, where to go for food. So if a bear has wandered into a neighbourhood ... [that cub] is going to go back," Kirk said.

"So all we have to do to break that cycle is think like a bear, manage those attractants, remove them from accessibility, and within two generations, they won't even think about it."

Bears' natural foraging plays a key role in the regional ecosystem, cleaning up dead carcasses left over the winter, dragging dead salmon away from creek beds in the fall and spreading their nutrients into the soil, and more.

"In the Okanagan we are so lucky that we have such diverse wildlife. Bears are part of that package," Kirk said.

"It's really important that we understand the benefits they have ... If we just learn to respect and understand them and not approach them with fear then we can all share this ecosystem together."

For more information on how to bear-smart your property, click here.

-with files from Casey Richardson

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