Column: Let’s get bear aware in the Kootenays

Column: Let’s get bear aware in the Kootenays

Black bears are a pretty common sight around town.

“When a pine needle falls in the forest, the eagle sees it; the deer hears it, and the bear smells it.” — Old hunters’ proverb.

Black bears are a pretty common sight around town. They differ from bears found out of town in a very big way. A typical black bear in the wild eats a mostly vegetarian diet. Around 80 per cent of the diet consists of berries, grasses, and vegetation.

However, bears living in and around town have gotten a taste for “junk food,” human food and garbage which wouldn’t normally be found in their diet. Smelly food attractants such as garbage, ripe fruit on trees, and compost lure bear from their natural habitats and into urbanized areas. When bears get a whiff of these items, they can’t resist taking a closer look. This spells big trouble for our four-legged friends.

For all wildlife, food is scarce, you don’t normally see fat wildlife. So if there is the possibility of more food nearby, most wildlife can’t help but check it out. This means bears will be in your backyard or your neighbours’, checking out what there is to offer.

Bears spending time in “our space” often leads to human-wildlife conflict. As bears spend more time in human-use areas and develop a taste for human food, they begin to lose their natural fear of us. Ultimately, this leads to more bear encounters and COs destroying bears for the protection of humans. Almost 500 black bears have been destroyed in British Columbia this year.

Bears tend to be a problem at two different times of the year. During the fall bears are getting ready for hibernation and must consume as many calories as possible in order to make it through the winter. Scientists call this phase “hyperphagia”, a phase of excessive eating and drinking to fatten up. They can eat up to 20,000 calories a day in this phase. As the berries and plants in their natural habitats are beginning to die off in the fall, the bears are more likely to wander into towns to find something high in calories.

The bears are also a problem in the springtime. This is when they wake up hungry from the winter hibernation and have used up most of their fat supplies. They are in great need of food, however, the berry and plant crops may be covered in snow and not ready to eat, meaning the bears will have to travel further and try harder to find a meal. Black bear encounters increased significantly this past spring compared to the spring of 2016 as snow lingered longer than normal in the mountain meadows where they typically find food.

In order to prevent bear encounters and see a reduction in conflict, we need to get smart about food and get smart about bears. This includes regularly picking fruit trees, using bear-safe garbage containers and never leaving anything with a scent outside, unattended. This even includes beer by your lounger or snacks in your purse.

With a nose strong enough to smell scents from 35 km away, assume that they can smell it. Bears naturally avoid humans but when they get a taste of our food, they can be aggressive and possessive, especially if they’re hungry. If you encounter an aggressive bear, let your local Conservation Officer know. By being “bear aware” we can prevent the bears from coming to town and keep the wild in wildlife.

To report a bear contact your local Conservation Officer at 1 877 952-7277 (RAPP).

Tommo Thomas and Dani Crowe are second-year Recreation, Fish and Wildlife students at Castlegar’s Selkirk College.