Greater Trail residents are being reminded to lock their vehicle doors – not to thwart potential thieves, but to deter hungry black bears.
On April 20, a Rossland family was woken in the middle of the night by an unexpected intruder.
“It was really bizarre,” said Ona Stanton. “We woke up around 3:30 a.m. I heard a sound outside and thought it was a dog. So I woke up and looked out the window and my car door was open.
“That’s what made me jump out of bed.”
The bear had opened the door of the car first, worked its way to the truck parked beside it, opened the door and jumped in. Yet, apparently the door closed behind it, trapping the bear in the Ford F-150.
“When we got outside we realized our truck was moving,” said Stanton. “The bear was inside and trying to get out.”
Uncertain what to do, the Stantons called 911.
The bear’s ability to actually open the car doors was a surprise to the Stantons, but not to Conservation Officer (CO) Blair Thin.
“We’re talking bears with a learned behaviour, not talking about a bear that is completely wild and part of its instinct,” said the CO. “This is something that over a period of time a bear is recognizing that it’s being rewarded by entering vehicles.
“When we reward bears for doing something like that, it’s going to keep doing it.”
Stanton confirmed that after speaking with neighbours, they also reported waking up to open vehicle doors – without the extensive damage.
“It might have been easy to get in but it wasn’t so easy to get out,” said Thin. “Once a bear is trapped or finds itself in a confined space where it can’t get out, it will do the most natural thing and try to claw and scratch its way out.”
The Stantons had cleaned all the garbage out of their vehicles that weekend but Ona says she may have left a small pear core in the pick up that morning.
“To me it doesn’t seem like that should be enough, but I guess it’s strong enough that they can smell that,” said Stanton. “We didn’t have any obvious attractants, but apparently bears have learned to open doors anyway.”
According to Thin, it doesn’t take much, and a truck that has driven their growing family around for almost nine years is bound to have compelling odours for a bear.
“There wasn’t a heck of a lot in her vehicle, but even an apple core or half-eaten granola bar, crumbs, anything,” said Thin.
“If they (bears) are hungry, all they’re doing is eating. They haven’t been awake from hibernation for very long, and of course, the hills are still full of snow so the valley bottoms and of course our back yards are the sources of food they are eating.”
The RCMP contacted the Conservation Officer RAPP line and was given advice on a quick release of the bear from the vehicle by using two ropes tied to the door handles while the officers sat safely in their two vehicles.
The bear, meanwhile, completely destroyed the inside of the F-150 crewcab, which was later written off.
“I had no idea it was so powerful. It shredded the metal of our doors, ripped the seats right off the floor, the air bags, started grabbing the side panels.”
For the family, who ironically lives on Black Bear Dr., seeing bears is not unusual, yet, the experience has been a valuable if not expensive lesson for all.
“There are always bears around, but we’ve never had any encounters like this that’s for sure,” said Ona. “That definitely wasn’t the wake up call we were anticipating, but now we know how to get a bear out of our vehicle.
“The doors are locked from now on.”
As bears continue to wake from hibernation, the CO Service is putting the responsibility on residents to keep their yards free of attractants, including bird feeders, fruit on trees, and most of all garbage – in cans and in cars.
“We’re really making an effort to educate and enforce our attractant laws pertaining to attracting dangerous wildlife,” added Thin. “If you file a complaint that a bear’s getting into your garbage, the chances of us setting a trap is very slim, but the chance of you getting a ticket for attracting dangerous wildlife is significant.”