Steeves/Trail Mix: Bears and people a dangerous mix

This family of bears visited the backyard of a Kaledan woman, who took these shots from her kitchen window. - Linda Dahl/contributor
This family of bears visited the backyard of a Kaledan woman, who took these shots from her kitchen window.
— image credit: Linda Dahl/contributor

It's become quite common in the Central Okanagan for residents to see bears up close.

While this may be magical in some cultures, a practical nature would see the danger in it.

First off, bears weigh more than most humans and are frequently taller when they stand on their hind legs, but even more importantly, they're strong—and I don't just mean the smell.

And, despite the leisurely, rolling gait and the look of awkwardness, they can move extremely fast.

But, above all, they have claws and teeth, which they don't hesitate to use when they feel threatened or when they're feeling predatory.

Plus, their sense of smell is phenomenal; far beyond anything we can imagine.

I buried a few tablespoons of bonemeal a foot or so deep in my garden with a few spring-flowering bulbs, and I watched the other day as a bear dug up those bulbs in mere seconds to get at the smell of that bonemeal.

Maybe he thought he'd buried a kill there or something. Anyway, I wasn't sorry I was two storeys and a pane of glass away from him.

It would be perfectly natural if you accidentally came upon a bear in a wilderness park or on a trail in the wild, but these are bears in people's yards, which is not natural since they're naturally pretty shy of people.

There are a number of reasons for this, some of which we can change to prevent such proximity and contact, and some of which we can't.

We have moved into bear habitat and many of us live in forested areas naturally inhabited by bears; or we live on the verge of our communities, up close to wilderness areas where bears live.

Fewer people hunt bears, in part because some sectors in society frown on hunting and because their attitude, as reflected by legislation, is anti-gun. It's an unfortunate attitude perpetuated by those increasing numbers of urbanites who have lost touch with their roots in the country.

They've confused guns with gang violence and illegal activities, which is the prevalent use of guns in cities. They forget they're also a basic tool for living in proximity to large wild animals, and for foraging in the wild for food—as well as being a piece of equipment used in sports, whether that's hunting or target shooting.

That decline in hunting has emboldened bears around our communities and has led to  increased populations of them in recent years.

They have no natural enemies except man and themselves, and their numbers are naturally only limited by food.

Since some residents insist on luring them into residential areas with food such as garbage left out in the open, pet food left outdoors, bird feeders full of high-calorie feed and un-used fruit and nuts on their landscape trees, it's also up to us to take action to stop attracting them.

That's where the B.C. Conservation Foundation's Bear Aware program comes in. It's a very effective, province-wide program that comes complete with trained coordinator, toolkit and proven strategy.

All it needs is grassroots support in the community where it's needed to encourage the local civic government to set aside a small amount of money to pay the coordinator for a portion of the year and an office.

BCCF is a non-profit group and can sometimes help underwrite some of the cost, but it doesn't have the resources to pay for it all.

Local conservation officer Terry Myroniuk has agreed to chair a group of residents interested in bringing Bear Aware to the Central Okanagan, but there has to be interest from the community for it to go ahead.

There was a Bear Aware program here in 2005 and 2006, and it made a significant difference, but it was not funded locally, and the funding from BCCF or the province was not available to continue it.

If you're willing to help bring the program here, contact Myroniuk at:

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.



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