Bear shooting a reminder for humans

A sow and her cub photographed in Kaleden. Conservation officers are encouraging residents to reduce bear attractants after a sow and two cubs had to be destroyed this week in Summerland.  - Photo courtesy of Linda Dahl
A sow and her cub photographed in Kaleden. Conservation officers are encouraging residents to reduce bear attractants after a sow and two cubs had to be destroyed this week in Summerland.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Linda Dahl

Zoe Kirk hopes that the shooting of a mother black bear and her two cubs Monday starts people thinking.

“We don’t want to see this happen again, but this might be one of those tipping point moments, said the WildSafeBC co-ordinator for the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen. People need to manage the things that attract the bears, like unsecured garbage.

“If we do that one thing, there will be less bears destroyed.”

These bears were destroyed by a conservation officer after they broke into the covered bed of a pickup where garbage was being stored, in a residential area of Summerland.

“It gives me the opportunity to remind people what brings bears into your community. Bears need to move through to get to water, they need to get to their natural habitat,” she said. “But what they don’t need to do is be encouraged to loiter because people are leaving garbage and attractants mismanaged.”

According to Barb Leslie of Conservation B.C. the bears were a common sight in the area and were habituated to people and garbage.

The cubs were in poor shape, Leslie said, and the sow was overweight after living on garbage through the winter.

People need to see the world through bear’s eyes, said Kirk, and understand that feeding is one of their main drives.

First, bears need to make up the weight lost over the winter, then procreate and continue putting on weight to last through denning in the winter.

By October, Kirk said, a bear is looking for up to 20,000 calories per day, and humans are essentially setting up fast food restaurants for them.

“A bird feeder is a 5,000 calorie hit,” said Kirk. Then there is ripe fruit left on trees, pet feeding bowls left on porches and garbage not being properly secured, as with a bear-proof container.  And a bear is very good at finding food sources, according to Kirk.

“It has a nose five times better than a bloodhound. It can smell a peanut butter sandwich a kilometre away,” she said. But the fast food smorgasbord is unhealthy for the animals especially the cubs, who only have 15 months with their mother to learn about how to forage for food.

Managing attractants, like making sure garbage stays inside and locked until the morning of pickup, will change the unhealthy learned behaviour.

“We do that for a season and the mother bears are going to have to teach their cubs to get food in more natural ways,” said Kirk.

In the case of the Summerland bears, the decision to euthanize was made after conservation officers had observed the mother and cubs and noted their poor state of health.

The cubs, in particular, appeared to be in pain with every step, according to Leslie.

Kirk said she expects to focus on Princeton and Summerland this year for the Bear Aware program, which is part of WildSafeBC.

The program received it’s annual funding from the province last week, which means they will be in operation for a sixth year in the RDOS.

“We are also very clearly going to be involved in the urban  deer problem,” said Kirk. “It is going to be  a busy season, so to know we have that funding coming makes it so much easier for us.”


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