Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bear Smart?

Moralea Milne
August 19, 2008

Late in the day several months ago, my dogs started barking even more frantically than usual. I have one dog that is gifted with keen eyesight and acute hearing and another with an extremely high-pitched yap. One barks to let the vultures flying overhead know that the airspace over my property is a no-fly zone and to caution a deer wandering several acres away that it is getting too close to my home, while the other joins in from sheer exuberance. So a little barking doesn’t usually have me stop whatever I’m doing to check out the source of their excitement.

But on this particular evening, they were that much more hysterical than usual and I went outdoors to see what all the fuss was about. Not thirty feet from my front door was a young, sleek-coated bear staring down my Doberman, only somewhat ruffled by the deep-throated warnings coming at it. My other dog was vociferously joining in the fray, but from inside the safety of the kitchen.

My immediate reaction was darn, where is my camera? and I shouted “Stay there bear while I get my camera!” What the dogs couldn’t accomplish with their hackle-raising cacophony of warnings, I managed with my simple request to stay put for a photo-op, as the bear turned tail and disappeared up the hill at lightning speed.

My sister in Golden had an even more immediate encounter two years ago when, one hot summer afternoon, her dog’s agitated barking led her to a juvenile bear curiously exploring her mudroom, no doubt lured by the intoxicating scent of dog kibbles. They managed to chase it outside where it promptly climbed the nearest tree. To teach it to stay away from human habitation they started up the chainsaw and made loud, menacing gestures to show who was boss and that it had better keep out of their territory. It seems to have worked because although you can occasionally see a bear walking at the far edge of their fields, it gives the house a wide berth.

Bears are highly evolved and clever animals with excellent memories, their intelligence has been compared to that of the great apes. They retain knowledge of productive food sources and will return to them again and again, often traveling great distances to reach them. On southern Vancouver Island, black bears can be active all year but their periods of greatest activity are May-October, especially August and September. I know they come down and clean out my apple trees in that period. They don’t appear to be very generous in their sharing, I’m lucky to get one apple pie from six trees! Bears are normally shy and retiring, in every encounter I have had, the bear, as soon as it senses my presence, leaves in great haste; do you know that they can run as fast as a horse? Thank goodness it has always been in the opposite direction to the one I have been taking!

Our expanding populations and consequent urban and rural sprawl mean that bear encounters are becoming more common, as younger bears search for their own territories or food shortages cause them to widen their range. Climate change and the vagaries of nature spell food shortages to animals as well as humans and our gardens and garbage can seem like tantalizing backyard buffets.

Residing in Metchosin, many of us have had exciting but basically harmless encounters with a bear, from the ones you meet crossing the Goose to a sighting from your kitchen window, and none of us want to be the cause of their demise. According to Bear Smart BC, approximately 650 black bears are killed every year in BC because they are considered a nuisance. To July 31 this year, the South Vancouver Island conservation officers have received 426 complaints, attended to twenty-eight, with the result that four bears were killed and one relocated. The bears are attracted to our homes because we are unintentionally offering them easy meals.

If a bear becomes habituated to us and is deemed a nuisance bear, it will be destroyed. Below are a few, brief, do’s and don’ts designed to keep the bears and ourselves safe and able to peacefully share our rural community. For more in depth strategies, please go to the websites listed at the end of the article. Bear Smart brochures may be picked up at the municipal office.

Bear Smart for Dummies (from

• Don't attract bears to your property with:
• birdfeeders (feed the birds only in winter),
• fruit (pick as soon a ripe or earlier),
• gardens (use deterrents such the scarecrow animal repeller),
• compost heaps (don’t add meat and turn regularly),
• dirty bbq's (clean after use and try to store in secure area)
• pet food.

• Put your garbage and recycling in bear-proof dumpsters or place curbside only on the morning of pick-up. Don't stock pile it.

• Keep accessible doors and windows closed and locked.

• Use deterrents to discourage bears from entering your property.

• If you encounter a bear in an urban area - make lots of noise to encourage it to leave.

• Ask your neighbours to follow bear smart practices.

If you are having troubles with a bear, cougar (or wolf), call the BC Conservation Office at 1-877-952-7277. Nathan Nankivell, Strategic Communications Coordinator, states that “we use this information about sightings to identify areas where there are human wildlife conflicts that pose a threat to public safety. In other words, to track bears that are eating garbage (food conditioned) or bears that are no longer afraid of humans (habituated). Often the call centre operators will provide information to callers about attractant management, which if employed quickly, can result in bears no longer frequenting an area. Simply put, if there is no food for a bear, it will no longer be a bother..

The reporting line is also used to report human/wildlife conflicts where public safety is threatened. In these situations, the information is forwarded to the local officer for response. The officer will assess the situation and then determine what kind of response is required. This may include recommendations on how to manage attractants, translocation of a bear if it is not food conditioned or habituated, hazing methods to scare a bear off, or destruction if necessary”.

The BC Wildlife Act states that “it is an offense for people in B.C. to feed dangerous wildlife (bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves) or disobey orders to remove and clean up food, food waste or other substances that can attract dangerous wildlife to their premises”.

Much like our own actions, it is very easy to teach a bear bad habits and difficult to retrain it to acceptable behaviours. Please do your part to keep Metchosin a community in which wildlife and humans can coexist to our mutual benefit.

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