Steeves/Trail Mix: You can prevent bear conflicts

Black bears in the wild. - Ken Owens/contributor
Black bears in the wild.
— image credit: Ken Owens/contributor

Their brains may not be quite up to the same level, but they have a sense of smell that is an amazing 2,100 times better than ours, and they never forget a previous source of food.

If humans provide that food, then bears will end up in conflict with humans to access it.

It’s simple to solve the problem: never provide bears with access to food sources, according to Kelowna conservation officer Ken Owens.

Calls about bears will soar in the coming weeks as the big bruins go on their annual forage for high calorie food with which to bulk up for winter hibernation—particularly since we’ve had an especially hot and dry summer, which has dried up their normal food sources in the wild.

Owens says they need to consume 20,000 calories a day at this time of year, to prepare to go into dormancy. That’s a lot of ants and grubs, fish and vegetation, berries and small animals in the wild, but bird feed is a very high-calorie feed, as is what we leave out in our garbage, pet food or on our barbecue grills.

No surprise that they’re attracted into residential neighbourhoods as long as we put out such attractants.

And, while you may find it exciting to spot the occasional black bear in your back yard, you won’t be quite so impressed if he begins walking into the house, banging on your patio door, or threatening your pets or children.

Once you’ve attracted him with food, he will continue to return—for years, becoming bolder and more aggressive if he doesn’t get the food he wants.

Owens calls it ‘loving their bears to death,’ because he says a fed bear is a dead bear, simply because of the natural progression of behaviour once he has lost his fear of man.

Relocating bears never works once they’ve become habituated to human food, because they’ll always return, so if trapped, they must be killed.

However, Owens cautions people not to let that fact stop them from reporting bears in their neighbourhood, because those reports help the CO Service track the movements of bears that could become dangerous or threatening.

He also points out that trapping out the bear does not solve the problem because another bear will take his place as long as the humans involved haven’t changed their behaviours, and stopped putting out food to attract the animals.

Garbage must not be put out prior to the morning of collection, and it must be secured in a bear-proof container or inside a bear-proof building the rest of the time. Fruit should be picked as soon as it’s ready and cleaned up well. Bird feeders should be taken down between April and November. Pet food should not be left outdoors and barbecue grills should be burned off after cooking and put away.

If you’re caught attracting dangerous wildlife such as bears you could be fined $345.

If you encounter a bear, never turn your back and run. Instead, back up slowly. If you see a bear in your yard, make a lot of noise to discourage him, by banging pots and pans and shouting at him.

After he leaves, figure out what attracted him and get rid of it. If he is threatening, call the toll-free CO hotline at: 1-877-952-7277.

There’s lots more information at: www.bearaware.bc.ca or www.wildsafebc.com

“Keep wildlife wild,” concludes Owens.


Hiking book here

Incidentally, a new, updated edition of Okanagan Trips and Trails, the hiking and backroad book written by myself and Murphy Shewchuk, is now in local bookstores, ready for the cooler, beautiful late summer and early fall days.

It includes Murphy’s excellent maps and directions to 66 chapters of trails and backroad trips throughout the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen, as well as some excellent photos of some of the spots. Murphy’s a fantastic photographer as well.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.




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