Residents urged to secure garbage, pick fruit trees as COs forced to put down three black bears

In a sure sign that fall has officially arrived, bears are back roaming the streets of the Columbia Valley’s municipalities. 

Each September valley residents mark the passing of seasons in several unmistakable annual signals:  shorter days, colder nights, deciduous tree leaves blazing yellow, the autumnal equinox (which was last Thursday, Sept. 22, in case you missed it) and, unfortunately, black bears and even sometimes a grizzly or two rummaging through local garbage bins unwisely put out for curbside collection far too early.

All these markers of autumn are here now, including the bears, which have prompted residents to call the Pioneer (not to mention local conservation officers) with multiple tips and sighting during the past several weeks, and which have caused a lockdown at one local school.

The bears have been prowling the streets of Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, and Fairmont Hot Springs, getting into trash and unpicked fruit trees, with the end result that local conservation officers have so far been forced to euthanize three black bears over the course of September.

The first incident, and perhaps most dramatic one, occurred at Panorama Mountain Resort on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 3, when a black bear quite literally invited itself into a home for a bite to eat, just as the vacationers renting the property as a short-term rental (STR) were busy cooking dinner.

“The bear actually went through a window into the occupied house,” local senior conservation officer Greg Kruger told the Pioneer. “The people staying there were very surprised, to put it mildly. They were in the middle of making a meal and the bear came in and took over part of their dinner.”

Luckily nobody was harmed. Conservation officers didn’t find out about the break-and-enter (and-eat) bear until the morning of Sunday, Sept. 4, when they were called by Panorama security. At that point the bear was on the deck of another occupied home, and had already amassed a track record over several days of getting into garbage and of not showing fear of humans. Conservation officers put it down later on Sunday, Sept. 4.

A week later, on Saturday, Sept. 10, conservation officers euthanized another black bear, which had been wandering around the Wilder subdivision raiding improperly stored garbage cans for several days.

“It was very habituated, and was showing very little to no fear of people. It was walking through the subdivision in broad daylight. It unfortunately becomes matter of public safety, once a bear is that habituated, that’s why we had to put it down,” said Kruger. “We base the decision on whether or not to put it down on the individual animal and its behaviour. If it’s a public safety issue, unfortunately we don’t have a choice.”

The third bear incident was on Wednesday, Sept. 14, when a black bear was spotted up a tree near J.A. Laird Elementary School. The school was put in lockdown while conservation officers arrived at the scene. They tranquilized the bear and then relocated it to a spot deep in the valley’s backcountry.

But more than those three bears are out and about and bear sightings in town continued throughout the rest of September.

Kruger outlined that another black bear has been hanging out in the area of Wilder, J.A. Laird and other parts of southern Invermere, and it has been getting into garbage, that a second bear has been doing the same in Radium Hot Springs, and that a third has been drawn to unharvested fruit trees with ripe fruit in Fairmont Hot Springs. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, a black bear was seen running across the parking lot at Eileen Madson Primary School, before disappearing into the houses and treed slope immediately to the west.

“We’ve given out wildlife protection orders to people for not securing attractants properly,” explained Kruger. “We’ve talked to a number of residents who didn’t realize that the District of Invermere curbside collection garbage bins are not in fact bear proof. This seems to be one of our biggest issues. We are asking the public to be diligent. If a food source is available, there is a good chance bears will get into it.”

Kruger noted there is always a spike in bear calls in September and October.

“This time of year, we always see them pushing down into the valley, as natural food sources such as berries are lost to them in the high country. They are trying to pack on the calories for winter” he said. 

This year, with no WildSafe coordinator for the Columbia Valley, conservation officers and local bylaw officer are filling in the duties normally done by the WildSafe coordinator around educating the public regarding keeping garbage in a secure location (such as a locked shed or indoors) until just prior to curbside pickup.

The district has put  up several Facebook posts throughout the month reminding the public that its garbage bins are not bear proof and reminding residents and visitors that they need to keep their garbage inside until the morning of pickup. The posted notes that putting out garbage early could constitute feeding wildlife, and as such breaks district bylaws.

“For September we’ve given two fines in Invermere under the Wildlife Act for attracting dangerous wildlife,” explained Kruger. “We will issues these fines when we know that the offender knows better.”

Each fine is $230.

In addition, conservation officers have issued two wildlife protection orders in Invermere to secure garbage or remove other bear attractants (such as fallen fruit on the ground below a fruit tree, or ripe fruit left in a tree unpicked). If conservation officers follow up and find the order has not been followed, offenders are subject to a $575 fine.

“Putting down a bear is the worst part of our job. We don’t like doing it, especially given that it can be avoided if people follow the rules. We do our best to work with the community to remove food sources. If there are no food sources, there are no bear problems,” said Kruger.

Anybody wanting to report a bear sighting or unsecured garbage offenders can do so by calling the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1 877 952 7277.