A bear was killed after becoming addicted to non-natural food sources at a Ucluelet campground last month and several others are heading towards the same fate if residents and visitors continue failing to secure their attractants.
“Conservation officers don’t kill bears, people leaving their garbage out kill bears. We’re just the mechanism,” Sgt. Stuart Bates of the BC Conservation Officer Service told the Westerly News.
This was the first bear killed on the West Coast this season.
“It’s behaviour had gone beyond what we would allow,” Bates said. “We never ever remove bears or any predator for their presence, we remove them because of their behaviour. If their behaviour escalates to the point where we think it’s starting to pose a public safety risk, we’ll remove it.”
He added bear sightings are being reported in neighbourhoods in both Tofino and Ucluelet and he’s urging residents and visitors to keep their attractants secured.
“What we want to do is nip it in the bud quick,” he said. “If we can get that attractant secured right away so the bear doesn’t get habituated and food conditioned, there is hope for them to return back to nature. The problem is, if they keep continuously having access to garbage or bird food or dog food, they become conditioned that that’s their source of food and they become habituated to the presence of people and lose their fear of us. And, once a bear, or any predator for that matter, has learned not to fear people and that we are a source of food, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Anyone who leaves attractants unsecured could face a fine of up to $575 under the B.C. Wildlife Act.
WildSafeBC Pacific Rim coordinator Bob Hansen said bear activity is not surprising this time of year as berry crops have not yet ripened.
“We have a very high density of bears and we don’t see the vast majority of those bears because they are very attune to finding and taking full advantage of the abundance of natural foods in our area,” he said.
“They’ve been hitting grasses, sedges and herbs hard and now we’re sort of in this transition where they’re moving on from the grasses and sedges and such but the berries aren’t quite ripe yet…This isn’t unexpected right now, we just need to take some extra actions to make sure that bears aren’t tempted into conflict situations.”
Hansen hosted a workshop with staff from four local campgrounds in the spring and said many campgrounds are following the protocols set out in the BARE Campsite Program.
Hansen helped create the program with the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in 1998 and has been thrilled with its success.
“Up until we created that program, the park was destroying one to three bears a year often because of issues in the campground and since 1998 they’ve only destroyed two bears,” he said. “If it’s implemented really well, it obviously works.”
He said the program is based on the simple principle of keeping any food, garbage and other attractants out of sight.
“It’s when they’re away from their campsite or asleep that a bear can really come in and check out a campsite and that campsite, as we refer to it, needs to be bare,” he said.
He said the local campgrounds that have implemented the program have not had bear issues since and WildSafeBC is actively promoting it across the province.
He added bears have been accessing residential garbage in Tofino and Ucluelet neighbourhoods over the past week.
“The bears in both communities are showing up in different parts of the towns. They’re really moving around and because they’ve had some success accessing garbage they will be on the lookout for anything that isn’t secured in terms of garbage,” he said.
He said the easiest way to avoid conflicts with bears is to ensure residents are keeping their garbage inside until the morning of pickup, adding homemade sheds rarely do the trick.
“For a food conditioned bear that’s determined, that won’t deter that bear. They will break that structure apart to get at the garbage,” he said.
He added outdoor freezers should also be avoided, recounting a time a local bear ripped the lid off a freezer that was locked by three padlocks.
“Freezers are not constructed to keep bears out,” he said. “They just aren’t built to withstand the strength of a bear.”
He urges residents to be cautious with their composts, especially if a bear is active in their neighbourhood.
“You don’t want to have any meat, or bones or fish scraps, I don’t even put eggshells in mine,” he said.
He added that anyone with a chicken coop should all have an electric fence system and said WildSafeBC has helped about 10 local chicken owners install electric fencing and none have reported any problems with bears since.
“There are ways to protect your chickens and your livestock, there’s ways to prevent bears accessing garbage, there’s ways to prevent them accessing compost and now is definitely the time to really pursue any options,” he said. “Take all those precautions.”
More information can be found at wildsafebc.com as well as the WildSafeBC Pacific Rim and WildSafeBC Hitacu-Macoah Facebook pages.