A local conservation officer hopes a flurry of recent bear sightings in Penticton will serve as a reminder to not leave out anything of interest to hungry bruins trying to bulk up for winter.
“We’re getting inundated with calls from people with bears going in their backyards,” said Barb Leslie, the Okanagan region manager for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.
“People have to clean up their yards to make them safe.”
Leslie made a presentation last week to the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, which she credited with helping deter bears in the rural areas around Penticton through a relatively new bylaw amendment.
First tested in Naramata in 2011, the amendment prohibits residents from putting out their garbage before 5 a.m. on pickup days, unless it’s in a bear-proof container.
Leslie said residents reported just 11 bear sightings in Naramata in 2013-14, down from 48 in 2010-11.
Similar amendments have since been enacted in two other areas, including Kaleden, which saw its bear sighting numbers drop from 48 in 2010-11 to just four so far this year.
“I know that this is a success, because I too live in Kaleden and when I walk down the street in my nightgown on garbage day and look up and down the street, I realize I’m the first one out with my garbage at 6:30 in the morning. It’s been a real change,” said Leslie.
“We’re making the community safer by not leaving out food for the bears to get into, and in time we’ll see the bear population disperse. We’ll always have some bears, but hopefully they’re well-behaved bears.”
Leslie plans to lobby other RDOS member communities, like Summerland, to follow suit with their residential garbage bylaws.
Naramata Director Karla Kozakevich said she’s had great buy-in in her community.
“People have really come around to getting on board with the program, because they don’t want to see bears put down,” she said.
“This is what we’ve got to do if we don’t want to see them killed, and it’s been such a huge improvement.”
According to an online database listing reports made to B.C. conservation officers, there were 14 bear sightings in Penticton and one in Naramata in September, but none so far in October as of Tuesday.
Leslie, whose staff of 12 covers an area from the Shuswap south to the Canada-U.S. border, said bears are trying to fatten up for winter, so she encouraged homeowners to immediately dispose of any unwanted fruit or nuts from trees in their yards. Failure to do so, she added, can invite a fine under the B.C. Wildlife Act.