Take steps to reduce conflicts with bears

As bears prepare to hibernate for the winter, they've moved into the city to stock up on groceries, but we can avoid conflicts.

A black bear mooches through a local neighbourhood on a search for food.

As black bears move into neighbourhoods, orchards, vineyards and parks in the Central Okanagan to fatten up for hibernation, conservation officers warn residents to keep attractants out of reach.

In recent weeks they have been reported not only in neighbourhoods rooting in garbage and in parks munching on the dying kokanee salmon, but also in orchards frightening pickers as they both try to get the crop off.

Some orchardists complain they can do a lot of damage, but Kelowna has a firearms bylaw that prohibits them from shooting the animals in the city, unless they have a permit.

In order to get the permit, minimum $5 million public liability and property damage insurance coverage must be proven and the person must have the RCMP do a firearm registration and criminal record check  and satisfy the Chief of Police that they are fit to be issued the permit.

Conservation Officer Ed Seitz says they would like to be able to match up hunters interested in shooting bears on local farms with the farmers who need damage control, but the bylaw does not encourage that.

Cst. Kris Clark of the Kelowna RCMP estimated it could take about a week for the permit application to make its way through their system, but it must first be picked up at city hall, he said.

City clerk Stephen Fleming said the city has had a firearms bylaw since 1906, but it’s been revised several times, including the latest changes in 2007.

Penalties for contravening the bylaw range from $100 to $10,000 or 90 days in jail, or both.

He said he wasn’t sure if the city had ever had reason to enforce the bylaw.

With the property-owner’s permission, a hunter could obtain the permit on his behalf, he said.

He could not recall ever receiving any comments against the bylaw.

A bear and an apple picker nearly bumped into each other recently in an orchard in Kelowna, with both panicking and running in the opposite directions, related Seitz.

However, it could easily have been a bear who was not as leery of humans, and who wanted to defend his food source, the fruit.

Or, it could have been a sow with cubs who feared for the safety of her young, in which case she may have defended them, instead of running.

Bears who have become habituated to human food and the presence of people concern the CO service, because the next step is aggressive bears who could be dangerous.

However, there are far too many bear complaints for COs to respond to every one, so only if bears are acting aggressively do they take action.

Presently, they have set bear traps in two neighbourhoods where such bears have become problems, Mission and West Kelowna Estates, said Seitz.

However, the Powers Creek area in Glenrosa is another hotspot for bear complaints currently, he said.

Extremely dry weather has dried up natural food sources for the big bruins this year, so they’ve made what has become an annual pilgrimage for some, into town where garbage and rotting fruit are plentiful.

Seitz says it could be another few weeks before the animals are ready to hibernate for winter, and in the meantime, they must take in enough calories to last them through the next season.

A Bear Aware program in the Central Okanagan would be helpful to educate people about how to prevent bear problems, he said, and he would like to see local government work with the B.C. Conservation Foundation to bring that program back to this region.

Bear problems are largely the result of civic planners permitting houses to be built along creek corridors and in forested land—all bear habitat, he noted.

“The city is growing daily and we need to be aware when we allow building in wilderness areas, there will be wild animals,” he commented.

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com