A rash of recent bear sightings in Penticton proper, while not unusual given the time of year, has some people on edge.
However, according to Zoe Kirk, Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen WildSafeBC community co-ordinator, a little common sense and education can go a long way to reducing the conflict potential.
“It’s their (bears’) time,” said Kirk, following two bear sightings in Penticton in the past four days. “The bears are in what’s called hyperphagia. In other words, that means all they are is noses and stomachs. They are trying to put on as much body weight as possible before they go to den, which in this neck of the woods is in December. They are looking for 20,000 to 24,000 calories a day.
“A bear just doesn’t sort of parachute out of the hills and come and maraude downtown. They pose a danger to people when they become too complacent about being in town, so don’t give that bear a reason to be in your neighbourhood.”
People can do that by keeping garbage locked away or in bear-proof containers, not leaving pets or pet food outside and harvesting residential fruit and berries.
The most recent sightings were in the Wiltse area on the weekend and another instance on Friday morning when a black bear was spotted in a tree in the backyard of a residential property on Winnipeg Street.
The Conservation Officer Service was called and tranquilized the animal, which was tagged and taken a short distance away and released.
A black bear in the Riva Ridge mobile home park, just south out Penticton, had to be put down recently after several months of breaking into garbage containers in the park, and had been spotted near residences during the day, leaving the conservation officers no choice in how they dealt with an animal that had been habituated.
Washing out garbage containers with bleach or ammonia and water is also another method for keeping bears away because of their sensitive sense of smell.
“They can smell a peanut butter sandwich a kilometre and a half away,” said Kirk. “When I say nose, I mean a nose that is five times better than a bloodhound.”
According to Kirk, high-calorie foods such as salmon and berries should be the main choice of diet for local bears, who do not, like other species, hibernate the entire winter.
She added with returning salmon already in the creek, bears following the water sources to the lowlands is going to be an increasing sight and people should be extra vigilant.
Should someone encounter a bear, Kirk said you should remain calm, talk to the bear in a quiet voice and not run.
“In the bear’s mind nobody runs unless they’re running towards food so they’re going to make sure they get there first, over top of you,” she said. “We call the ones here interface bears because they’re used to hearing traffic noise and people so talking to it gives it the immediate recognition that you’re just human, you’re not a threat.
“The incidence of maulings and death are very rare.”