It has been a strange year for everyone, even wildlife.
WildSafeBC coordinator Oscar White released the WildSafeBC annual report to Trail council last week, which summarizes incidents of wildlife encounters in populated areas of Trail and Rossland in 2020.
“Black bears are the most frequently reported wildlife in both Rossland and Trail and garbage remains the most reported unmanaged attractant,” said White.
One anomaly that concerned the coordinator was the low number of wildlife encounters due to an unwillingness of the public to report them.
“These calls are less frequent in Rossland as there is a reluctance to call the Conservation Officers Service [COS],” read the report. “This reluctance has affected the ability for WildSafeBC to gain valuable information about areas of conflict in the community.”
Rossland had 30 black bear reports, up slightly from last year, but considerably lower than the 61 calls made in 2017. According to reports only five encounters were caused by garbage attractants, down from the 21 reports in 2017.
“As a result, residents are waiting until conflicts are too much for them to handle and until bears have become food conditioned or human habituated.”
Meanwhile, it was a wild year in Trail with reports of moose and black bear strolling down Silver City streets, bears breaking into vehicles, and elk grazing in Gyro Park.
In May, drawn by garbage attractant in the trunk, a bear actually broke into a vehicle, then was trapped inside it, and RCMP were called to set it free.
In another case, a bus driver took video of a black bear checking out a garbage can in downtown Trail, as a resident sat waiting for a bus a few feet away, and another resident captured a moose running by the Handy Mart on Second Ave.
In one unfortunate case, police were forced to destroy a habituated bear after it tried to enter a local supermarket.
Trail and Rossland have had respective bylaws in place for many years, both stipulate that refuse must not be placed curbside before 5 a.m. on the day of collection. And having unsecured attractants, be it garbage or a hummingbird feeder, can result in a $230 fine.
In 2020, Trail residents made a total of 126 black bear reports to COS, substantial, but less than the 220 bear conflict calls made in 2016.
It was also unusual, that no grizzly bear or deer were reported, and only one coyote and three cougars.
Most conflicts were caused by poorly stored garbage, bird feeders, and fruit left on trees.
A total of 32 bears were reported getting into Trail residents’ garbage, an increase over 2019, but less than the high of 84 reported in 2016.
June was the busiest month for black bear reports with 34 in Trail. Rossland reported eight bear encounters for the same month, down significantly from 34 in June, 2017.
“In 2020, several bears were reported to be damaging property and remaining in neighborhoods due to this unmanaged attractant,” said White. “Although the majority of these calls were made from Trail residents, this is still a concern in Rossland.”
WildSafeBC has a number of recommendations to help avoid conflicts between residents and wildlife, including securing garbage and removing fruit from trees.
Education is a priority, as is encouraging the public to call COS when conflicts first arise to avoid human habituation or food conditioning.
“We have been trapping bears that are a direct threat to public safety, and those that are causing significant damage to property, we will trap and destroy,” Conservation Officer Blair Thin told the Times in a June interview.
“We just can’t put the wild back into these bears. They won’t go from eating Big Macs to eating huckleberries. Unfortunately for the bear, it’s their downfall.”