After months of slacking off during winter hibernation, Greater Trail residents are reminded that the local bear population is waking up and will soon be on the hunt for bird feeders, garbage cans and dumpsters.
The number of residents who didn’t manage their waste last year left Bear Aware coordinator Sharon Wieder a little discouraged from her first year on duty.
“I think people can understand, especially after last year, why it’s important not to encourage the bears,” she said, noting that 2010’s mortality rates were the highest in Rossland in over 10 years (16 bears killed) and triple 2008 and 2009 combined in Trail (13).
After receiving a report of the first bear spotted last week behind the Nelson and District Credit Union in Rossland, Wieder plans to kick into full gear early this year.
She’s realized by now that advocating her message can only go so far and is now looking for residents who’d like to act as “dumpster deputies” in their communities.
“Maybe if we get at it early we can reduce the number of problems with bears and garbage,” she said. “That’s really the key to discouraging bears, to not allow them to get started early in the season.”
The smell of garbage attracts bears that become comfortable with neighbourhood surroundings and return to a reliable garbage can, she said, adding that the bruins have incredible memories and will keep coming back to a household that doesn’t manage its garbage properly.
“Some people think they’re doing bears a favour by leaving food out for them, but really it usually leads to their death,” she said.
A story out of Christina Lake last year shocked many when a couple was caught feeding dog food to 17 black bears in August. The raid of the rural property, which also uncovered a marijuana grow operation, resulted in provincial officials ordering the residents to continue feeding the bears until the middle of November, when the bears were expected to go into hibernation. The hope is that the bruins will return to their natural feeding patterns this year.
Allen Piche pleaded guilty in Grand Forks provincial court Thursday to feeding dangerous wildlife under the Wildlife Act and could face a fine of up to $100,000 or up to one year in prison.
“This created a huge campaign by people all over the world to save the bears,” said Wieder. “Unfortunately, too little attention was paid to why the bears needed saving in the first place.”
Last year’s Greater Trail bears were seen as “bolder,” entering houses, cars and sheds; acting aggressively toward people and pets; and foraging the streets in broad daylight.
Though Trail does have a bylaw stating that garbage can only be put out on the street for pickup after 6 a.m. on collection day, residents often violated this rule, she said.
Trailites who don’t manage to get their waste out in time for pickup have the option of dropping their refuse by donation at a commercial bear-resistant dumpster at the city works yard in Glenmerry. The community dumpster is managed by Natural Control Alternatives from May to October.
Wieder has reached out to other Greater Trail communities but has yet to land interest in setting up neighbouring programs.
While Trail’s program is relatively new — starting up in 2008 — Rossland has signed onto the bear smart program for over a decade.
The Golden City may not have a bear attractant bylaw or any regulation regarding when garbage can be put out on the curb for pickup but due to the long relationship with Bear Aware, most residents have jumped on the bandwagon for storing their waste in a safe place before garbage day, Wieder said.
“Dumpsters in Rossland do attract bears, but keep bears out as long as they are locked and in good repair. Bears have learned that even when a bin is locked, they can lift up the corner of the lid and reach in to pull garbage out. Bears are attracted regularly to damaged dumpsters that will not close properly.”
Hence the idea of getting the community more involved in garbage management, much like a “Neighbourhood Watch but for bears.”
Those interested in becoming dumpster deputies are asked to contact Wieder at rosslandbearaware.com or call 231-2751.