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Community’s lack of attractant management makes for uncertain futures for local bears

It’s a saying that B.C. residents know all too well, ‘A fed bear is a dead bear,’ and unfortunately in Sun Peaks, it’s a saying that could ring true
 | September 21, 2021
Black bears from years past roaming the area. File photo.

While no bears have been destroyed in Sun Peaks yet this year, Sgt. Mike Sanderson of the Conservation Officer Service told SPIN it may be necessary to destroy a bear if residents don’t contain attractants such as garbage or pet food.

“There’s bears that are in the area and poking around looking for garbage,” he said. “If we had received calls about the bears coming near residential areas [sooner], we could have been proactive and communicated with the community about managing attractants and keeping them secure, rather than reacting to a situation where bears have become food conditioned and subsequently habituated to people, creating greater risk to the public.”

It’s now likely too late to be proactive, and reactionary steps were taken with one trap set on Friday, Sept. 17 which was intended to be used to capture and destroy the single-bear.

However, the trap was temporarily taken down when it became possible one of the cubs, who was with its mother, could have been trapped accidentally, instead of the targeted single-bear.

“The sow and cubs pose a significant challenge,” said Sanderson. “In the event that you catch a cub with the sow outside the trap, obviously that sow could become quite agitated and create a public safety risk.” 

Sanderson estimated there are at least four bears, a single-bear, and a mother with two cubs, who are currently posing a risk to the community. He also expects the trap will be set back up given the bears’ continued behaviours.

Other complications posed by the cubs stem from what they have now learned early on in their young lives.

“Unfortunately, these cubs have learned this behaviour to get food from people from at a young age. I’m fearful these cubs are going to come back and do the same thing next year,” explained Sanderson.

He also said the bears are showing signs of aggressive behaviour, have become food conditioned by associating food with structures and are habituated to people instead of displaying their natural fear to humans.

“We’re concerned since the bears are comfortable around structures it may run into someone, or, it may think it’s breaking into a shed or structure that has food in it when really it breaks into someone’s house.”

Sanderson explained the last thing a conservation officer wants to do is put down an animal, and he wished residents called the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline sooner, so proactive steps could have been taken. 

“I’ve been hearing people saying ‘Don’t call the conservation officer service because that’s just a death sentence for the bear,’” said Sanderson.

“We’re trying to do everything we can. We’d like people to manage their attractants.”

Sanderson also said it’s important residents help spread the message of attractant management to neighbours, colleagues and friends.

“Even if things look good at the front of the house, I suspect people are storing garbage and attractants around the side or the back.”

Under the Wildlife Act, the Conservation Officer Service is able to issue a Dangerous Wildlife Protection Order (DWPO) if it’s deemed food attractants such as garbage pose a significant risk of drawing dangerous wildlife to public areas.

Sanderson also warned residents to stay alert while walking throughout the village, to not walk with headphones in, keep dogs on leashes, pack bear spray and know how to use it.

In an email, Sanderson added a list of tips for managing attractants:

  • Keep all garbage securely stored. Store attractants in a sturdy building or place them in an approved bear-resistant trash receptacle. Use bear resistant refuse containers community wide.
  • Bird feeders often become bear-feeders, so please only feed birds during the winter months. Take feeders down between April and November. 1 kg of bird seed = 6,600 calories. Keep the ground free of seeds.
  • Feed pets indoors, or if fed outdoors, take in any feed that is not eaten.
  • Keep the BBQ clean and free from odours. Burn off the grill every time after use and clean out the grease traps. Store with other attractants livestock/pet feed and keep garbage inside a sturdy building.
  • Manage your compost properly. Don’t add meat products or cooked food to compost, turn it regularly and keep it covered.
  • Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards, beehives, chickens or small livestock may attract bears. Use a properly installed and maintained electric fence. Store all your feed in a secure location and ensure feeding areas are clean and free of attractants.
  • Clear brush from your yard so you have a clear visible area. Place children’s play areas close to your house with viewable space around them and away from brush or forested areas.
  • Use motion detecting lights near entrance and walkways.

​​For more information on how to become more ‘Bear Aware,’ check out http://www.bearsmartbc.com/

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