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On the trail of black bears

Researchers set up network of cameras to track bears in Sooke
A University of B.C. researcher is working with several Sooke and Metchosin residents on a project to track black bears using remote, motion-triggered cameras. This photo was taken by Sooke wildlife photographer Gary Schroyen using a remote camera. (Gary Schroyen/Contributed)

Yogi, get ready for your close up.

A University of B.C. researcher is working with several Sooke and Metchosin residents on a project to track the movements and population densities of black bears and their conflicts with people.

“The past seven years Sooke has almost double the amount of wildlife conflicts than any other municipality [in the Capital Regional District], and most of those conflicts are with bears,” said Joanna van Bommel, who is conducting the one-year study as a master’s project.

The project uses about 80 remote, motion-triggered cameras to study the bears. Cameras are located, not only in neighbourhoods where there’s a high bear population, but in parks, forest and farm lands.

Black bears exist across North America, but B.C. has the highest population estimated at 140,000. There were 20,000 human-wildlife conflicts reported in B.C. in 2017 – 70 per cent related to black bears.

RELATED: Bear conflicts keep B.C. conservation officers busy

“My master’s project will study the distribution of black bears and their conflicts with people in a wild-urban interface based on environmental and human factors such as: housing density, garbage containment, berry availability, and forest type. I expect bears are attracted to urban areas generally and more so to those with consistent food availability,” said van Bommel.

She said bears take the path of least resistance in hunting for food. The bruins eat about 25,000 calories per day.

Over the last seven years, conservation officers killed 69 black bears in the CRD, and Sooke had the highest level of mortality for bears.

“I’m really interested to see what my data shows in the end, and hopefully I’ll be able to produce some recommendations where to target mitigation within the community to help reduce some of those conflicts,” van Bommel said.

RELATED: Sooke urged to be bear aware

For years, Wild Wise Sooke has urged residents to be more bear aware by keeping garbage and other food sources away from bears, and since its inception nine years ago has seen a dramatic decrease in bear-human conflict, said coordinator Debb Read.

Read is encouraged by the study and the results it could produce.

“We’re all about reducing the conflict,” she said.

van Bommel said along with placing the cameras on public property, she’ll also be asking residents, or as she calls them ‘citizen scientists,’ for permission to use their property.

“There’s been a wonderful response so far. I’ve met with people already and they’ve been so helpful and excited,” she said.

Several cameras were placed over the last few weeks and more will come online soon.

Each camera is checked by van Bommel once a month, and while cameras are on private property, the landowners have no other responsibility.

“We asked (land owners) to check the cameras every so often because bears can be curious and knock the cameras around.”

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Kevin Laird

About the Author: Kevin Laird

It's my passion to contribute to the well-being of the community by connecting people through the power of reliable news and storytelling.
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