South Okanagan communities see nearly double the amount of bear conflicts compared to last year

Uptick in bear conflicts

Contributed Debbie Andrews

The South Okanagan has seen a greater than usual number of bears wandering throughout the community this year and could see more as the animals prepare to gain extra calories for their hibernation period.

“Last year on this date, the South Okanagan had received roughly 252 black bear conflicts, which ranged anywhere from sightings all the way to food condition complaints, to bears getting into garbage,” conservation officer Clayton Debruin said.

“And this year, we are at 455.”

Those numbers encapsulate reports in Peachland, Summerland, Penticton, Oliver, Osoyoos, Keremeos, Cawston, Okanagan Falls and surrounding areas.

The rise in numbers could be attributed to the increase of wildfires in the area or a strong fruit and grape production year, but Debruin explained that the reason for the uptick is too complex to attribute to any one particular factor.

One Naramata community resident had a bear come onto her patio deck while she was out of town on Sunday. Her security camera caught the black bear wandering up on her back deck without hesitation.

“I've never seen, on the security cameras, them come right up to the house like that. I've always seen them cut through the yard because we back onto Arawana Creek, but it was pretty bold I thought,” Debbie Andrews said.

This time of year always showcases an upward trend in bear conflict, whether that is an increase in bear sightings in communities in search of food or bears getting into more garbage if it's available to them.

“Along with that trend, we also ramp up our attractant audits, our enforcement to educate and respond to people that aren't managing their attractants and drawing these animals into conflict with the general public,” Debruin said.

“Once a bear develops an affinity for garbage or gets into garbage, they don't go back into the wild and choose natural foods. Unfortunately, time and time again, it's been proven that once a bear gets into garbage, they do follow that pattern of just returning to the garbage, until the level of risk to the public is such that we have to remove them for public safety reasons.”

But Debruin wants to remind the public that when bears are reported and called into conservation, it does not automatically mean a death sentence.

“Unfortunately, we're faced with the challenge that with the misconception out there, that if the public reports these early bear conflicts, that will mean that we will automatically come out and destroy these bears."

Debruin noted that the area has also experienced an increase in reports of bears getting into orchards and vineyards, and the best course of action for the landowners is to install electric fencing to deter the bears.

“The Conservation Officer service does not capture and remove bears from orchards and vineyards, if they are feeding on fruit and there is no immediate threat to public safety,” he explained.

“Relocation doesn't work. If they have a bear that's feeding on their grapes or on their apples, that bear, even if we remove that bear and lift him up the hill, that bear will find its way back no matter how far we move that bear, they will come right back.”

Conservation officers will be working to provide increased education again as bears stock up their stomachs, and encourage people to continue to look after their attractants.

The key stance is looking at co-existence when bears come for those initial visits.

Andrews will be keeping an eye out for the bear who has been keen on her backyard, who hasn’t been back to visit yet.

“We have nothing outside. We keep our barbecues in the garage, everything. The only time that anything comes out is for garbage morning. I've got about a 100 foot driveway, and I'm even hesitant now taking down my garbage for fear there's one sitting on the side of my driveway somewhere,” she said.

“I know we're living in their neighbourhood, like it's the bear's area, but I'm terrified. So I am always on alert...We're bear smart but that doesn't mean that keeps the bears away.”

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