Bears are a natural part of Sun Peaks. Between April and November each year, bears come out of denning and make the mountain their home.
It’s important everyone does their part to keep wildlife safe, especially when sharing land with local animals. SPIN reached out to Sgt. Mike Sanderson of the Conservation Officer Service to learn how the community can be more Bear Aware.
“We’re going to have bears in Sun Peaks,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is have them down amongst the people where there’s a risk of a conflict … Bears have a natural fear of humans and we want to keep it that way.”
Sanderson said managing attractants and ensuring bears don’t have access to unnatural food sources is key. If there’s nothing for bears to feed on, they will move through an area and won’t get habituated to people.
Garbage is the number one attractant and biggest issue. Sanderson urges residents to keep all their garbage inside a building or in a secure container. If someone is unable to make it to the transfer station often and is concerned about the smell of garbage, he recommends freezing or refrigerating any food waste until able to properly dispose of it.
This goes beyond just a suggestion — a Sun Peaks bylaw allows the municipality to fine anyone who does not properly store or dispose of waste that could attract wildlife.
Sanderson said fruit trees or berry bushes are additional attractants for wild critters. Specifically, mountain ash trees in the area attract bears thanks to their bright red berries.
“Try not to plant those things in the first place. And if you do have them, try to remove those berries or fruits before they ripen or reproduce on the tree,” Sanderson said.
Additionally, bird feeders should be far out of reach and residents should be cautious of feed easily falling onto the ground. Better yet, Sanderson said the best practice would be to not have bird feeders at all until the winter months when bears are guaranteed to be denned up.
Keeping barbeques clean is another simple task that could be forgotten, but is an attractant.
“Burning off and scraping your grill and removing the grease traps of the barbecues regularly after each use is important,” Sanderson said. “Even using a cover over a clean barbecue will help maintain some of the smells. Bears have an excellent sense of smell and can be lured in from long distances.”
Sometimes residents also like to feed their pets outside. Sanderson said he usually discourages people from doing that, and those with outdoor pets that must be fed outside should at least remove excess food that’s not eaten.
Overall, Sun Peaks is unique because it has a lot of visitors and seasonal employees who may not know best practices for keeping wildlife away. As a result, it’s even more important for long-term residents to take responsibility in education and enforcing Bear Aware practices.
It’s also likely community members and visitors will come across a bear at some point. During an encounter, Sanderson said to maintain a safe distance and never approach the bear. If someone is trying to get a picture, they should use a zoom lense.
“If you do encounter a bear, you need to make sure that the bear is aware you’re there,” Sanderson said. “You want to move away slowly. Talk in a calm voice … Always remain calm.”
Hikers and bikers should carry bear spray as a protectant when heading out on the mountain. Sanderson said the spray should be kept somewhere easily accessible, like on a belt instead of inside a bag.
If possible, it’s best to hike in groups, keep dogs on a leash and make sure children stay close to the adults.
Anyone who sees a bear in an unnatural spot should report it by calling the conservation office at 1-877-952-7277. Sanderson said his team doesn’t want to destroy bears, but will need to evaluate whether reported animals pose a safety concern or if conservation officers can correct their actions.
Ultimately, Sanderson said if community members take the proper steps to be proactive, humans and wildlife can co-exist safely.