Bear program sees results

Naramata witnesses a decline in the number of bear and human conflicts

Regional district bear aware ambassador Zoe Kirk and BFI district manager Tom Loewen check one of the new bear-resistant garbage containers approved for use in the Naramata area as part of a pilot project to reduce conflicts between the animals and humans.

Regional district bear aware ambassador Zoe Kirk and BFI district manager Tom Loewen check one of the new bear-resistant garbage containers approved for use in the Naramata area as part of a pilot project to reduce conflicts between the animals and humans.

Conservation officers said there has been a reduction of bear and human conflict in Naramata due to efforts in awareness and pilot programs by the regional district.

“I believe it has been a contributing factor to it because Naramata is traditionally been one of our hotspots,” said conservation officer Jim Beck. “I believe we haven’t put down any bears in Naramata this year. Last year we had about six and the year before it was four or five.”

In April, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen passed a bylaw that fines Naramata and electoral area E residents if they place garbage curbside prior to 5 a.m. on the day of pick up. The only exception is if trash is placed in a bear-proof container, approved by the RDOS. Last week, a pilot program was introduced by BFI Canada and the RDOS for residents to try bear-resistant carts to put their garbage into.

“This is definitely a large step forward because garbage storage is one of the primary concerns we have as far as bears starting down that habituation path that usually ends up with us having to deal with them. I don’t think any of the officers want to put down bears, but we have a dual mandate of public safety as well as resource protection,” said Beck.

Naramata director Tom Chapman said initiating the bylaw to bring awareness to residents about bear attractants first then moving forward with the pilot project bear-resistant carts has been very effective.

“There are about 10 to 12 non-compliant people that we have contacted by phone and told they have to change their ways, but for the most part the community has embraced it and we ended up with a really positive result,” said Chapman.

Rolling out the bear-resistant carts has been especially exciting for RDOS bear aware ambassador Zoe Kirk. Together with the bylaw it puts Naramata well on its way to becoming a bear smart community. She said the program focuses efforts to reduce bear/human conflict and, ultimately, reduce the number of bears that have to be destroyed due to conflicts.

Kirk said bears are habitual creatures and will remember how to obtain an easy meal and return again and again. Garbage is just one of their main attractants, and if left out unprotected bears will seek it out. The one-month pilot program in Naramata and area allows residents to test out bear-resistant garbage carts and includes bins for recycling and yard waste. The bear carts have reinforced metal strips and a lockable top. Because they are too heavy to lift by hand, the carts are collected with a mechanical lift on the side of the garbage truck.

“BFI has enough inventory that the rest of the region can participate, so anyone that would like a bear cart can contact BFI and have one. I am sincerely hoping that with the data that we are going to gather as a result of the pilot project that it will make so much sense for other places in the region to use them as well,” said Kirk.

Two bears had to be killed by conservation officers after a large black bear lunged at a construction worker in West Bench last month. Given the proximity to West Bench Elementary school, the bear and its yearling had to be destroyed. Conservation officers said that area has had problems with bears for many years.

To sign up or find out more information about bear-resistant carts and which ones are compatible contact BFI Canada at 250-490-3888.


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