South Okanagan sees spike in bear activity

Conservation officers reminding residents to keep garbage securely away from bears

A sow and her cub are captured by a telephoto lens in Kaleden. Conservation officers are encouraging residents to reduce bear attractants.

A sow and her cub are captured by a telephoto lens in Kaleden. Conservation officers are encouraging residents to reduce bear attractants.

A bear sauntering through neighbourhoods in Penticton last week should be a strong visual reminder for residents to reduce attractants.

Conservation officer Jim Beck said a bear has been frequenting the Wiltse area, and he suspects it is garbage that is luring them there.

“Bears are driven by their stomachs, and if there is any form of food available they are likely to continue paying you a visit. If they come by and don’t get any food rewards, chances are they are going to move off on their own,” said Beck. “We are encouraging the public to take precaution with storage of their garbage.”

But Wiltse isn’t the only area that has seen a spike in bear sightings. Beck said there are also issues in West Bench, Okanagan Falls, Summerland, Naramata and Upper Bench.

“We are actually right in the middle of a fairly good bear peak in activity. It is a bit more extreme than what we have experienced in the past and I am not too sure whether it is because of the colder conditions or a surplus of bears. We have been running pretty hard,” said Beck.

Locked bear-resistant garbage containers are available from BFI, or Beck said residents can lock their garbage away in sheds. Reducing odours by rinsing out garbage cans with bleach or dettol solution can also help.

Bird feeders are another source of problems the conservation officers are running into. Beck said birds don’t need additional bird seed at this time of the season, but those who want to hang them up should be bringing them in at night. He also suggests ensuring you clean off barbecues thoroughly after use.

During this spike in activity, Beck said conservation officers have killed 10 bears. Most of those have been bears whose behaviour has changed because they have become accustomed to attractants left out by humans. At least one he can think of in Naramata was a “sickly” bear that Beck described as skin and bones. Another in Summerland was also small and in poor condition searching for food.

“They become a lot more comfortable with people. I have had bears even associating the shape of a garbage container with food, so they are busting open brand new garbage cans with nothing in them just because of the shape. That is when you start getting reports of a really friendly bear walking through the neighbourhood. That is a bad thing for us to hear. When they start doing that in the daylight that likely means it is a dead bear because public safety becomes our primary issue,” said Beck.

Conservation officers will not be running out to a backyard to set a bear trap when there is garbage not being contained in a bear safe manner, he said.

“You are probably going to end up getting a dangerous wildlife protection order from us saying clean up your garbage and secure it,” said Beck. “Do your part, and if it is a persistent bear after that we will take care of our side of things. Generally speaking, relocation is done but it is not that effective, and if it is a public safety issue that bear will be put down.”

Naramata is a traditional area in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen identified as a bear hot spot. Last year, the RDOS implemented a bylaw restricting residents to placing garbage at the curb after 5 a.m. on pick-up day. This was complemented by an education program in partnership with the B.C. Conservation Foundation and the RDOS Bear Aware community co-ordinator Zoe Kirk. The Bear Aware program offered by the RDOS is the only one in the Okanagan Valley.

“Since that date, only one very unthrifty young bear has had to be destroyed by conservation officers in Area E. The early positive results from Naramata pave the way to expanding that model into other identified hot spots in the region,” said Kirk.

Penticton Conservation Officer Service inspector Barb Leslie said in 2011 they received over 766 black bear complaints in the South Okanagan area, and with the help of the Bear Aware co-ordinator and new bylaw, the community of Naramata resolved its problems. Leslie said the number of black bear complaints in Naramata dropped dramatically from 117 in 2010 to 28 last year.

The Bear Aware community co-ordinator is available to provide information about bear behaviour, managing bear attractants and the reasons why bears are lured into neighbourhoods. For more information on the program or to book a presentation, contact Kirk at 250-492-0237 ext. 4110.