Bears’ return heightens risk of conflict with humans

Conservation Office reports problems with bears encountered in Summerland, Oliver and Peachland

Bears are waking from their winter slumber and already finding themselves in trouble, according to a conservation officer.

Oliver, Summerland and Peachland have already had conflicts reported directly to the Conservation Officer Service.

“Most of the bear activity begins at the end of April, first part of May. This year has been a little bit subdued because of the rather cold, begrudging spring we have been experiencing, but we do have some bear activity occurring now,” said conservation officer Jim Beck.

“We had one particular problematic bear in Oliver that had been getting into freezers and going right into people’s porches and decks. It broke into one freezer and was on top of another one trying to gain access. In lower Summerland, we had a bear that has been a bit of a problem. Again, it was on people’s decks and yards.”

The conservation officer is reminding people to not store pet food outside because it can attract bears right to your deck or door, and bird feeders should also be taken in at night.

“A lot of times when bears are first starting to get into trouble they are night active. As their comfort level increases, they become more day active and that is when our safety concern gets higher. We are also starting to get some heat now and people should be cleaning out their garbage cans to make sure there is no odour. If they can smell it, a bear can smell it, as they have 10 or 15 times better scent detection than our noses,” said Beck. “One taste of garbage is enough to trigger that habituation cycle.”

To reduce the chance of a bear conflict while in the wild, always check ahead for bears in the distance, and if one is spotted make a wide detour and leave the area, make warning noises and loud sounds. If a bear is standing up, it typically is trying to identify you. It is recommended to talk softly, move away without running and keep the bear in view but not make direct eye contact.

Beck said he would like all communities to  take the steps Naramata has to become certified Bear Smart. This is an education program focused on reducing human-bear conflict in residential neighbourhoods through education, innovation and co-operation.

“Naramata is quite progressive with what they have in place. If the communities throughout the Okanagan could work towards Bear Smart status then it makes our job that much easier. We may always have some problem bears, but the number is reduced,” said Beck, who previously worked in the prime bear habitat in the Revelstoke area and saw initiatives taken by the community significantly drop the number of bears they had to deal with.

Last year, 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 pickup. The only exception is if trash is placed in a bear-proof container. A pilot program with BFI Canada and the RDOS was deemed a success after residents were allowed to try bear-resistant carts to put their garbage into. The carts are now available for all residents. Before a community can become Bear Aware, they must first obtain Bear Smart status — a preventative measure with a series of criteria that address the root causes of human-bear conflicts. Naramata is actively pursuing this status.

The province announced last month that they are providing $225,000 over the next 12 months to bring the Bear Aware program to more communities.

“Our continued support of the Bear Aware program, without a doubt, has reduced the number of bears that have to be destroyed,” said Minister of Environment Terry Lake. “We’re making this funding available so that more communities can learn how to keep bears out of their yards and neighbourhoods — and that helps keep bears out of trouble.”

To report a bear sighting or conflict contact the Conservation Office 24-hour hotline at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).