By Steve Hubrecht
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The air is crisper, backyard gardens are being harvested, the larch in the alpine are glowing orange, and the mountains ash down in Invermere are flaming red. Unless they’re holed up in a bunker, Columbia Valley residents are by now acutely aware that fall is here. But, if you still need another reminder that the seasons are changing, you can find it in ursine form, as last week saw black bears and even a Grizzly or two wandering into many communities in the valley.

Local residents called the Pioneer to report several bears sightings in Invermere last week. The one that generated the most buzz was made by Windermere resident Christine DuBois, who was walking her kids to Windermere Elementary School on the morning of Friday, Sept. 24, when they watched a black bear attack and kill a deer.

“It was pretty dramatic,” says DuBois, speaking to the Pioneer later that same day. As co-owner of Shadybrook Resort Campground, along with her husband Mike, DuBois has seen plenty of bears in the past. “But I’ve never seen a bear just take out another animal like that. It was almost unbelievable to see it happen. It took out the deer and then just starting munching on it.”

DuBois and her kids kept a safe distance and then proceeded to school. After dropping off the kids, DuBois went home, got her vehicle, her husband and a video camera. The pair were able to film and photograph the bear as it dragged the carcass through much of Windermere.

At one point, the bear easily scaled a one-story high retaining wall while hoisting the carcass. After about 20 minutes, the bear disappeared into some trees and brush in the Hidden Bay neighbourhood of Windermere, where DuBois surmising it cache the carcass.

She posted a video of the incident on Facebook, where it quickly attracted views and comments.

“I’ve always been cautious of bears, but when you see a bear take out a deer — and this deer I would guess was about the same size as me — it does give you a whole new appreciation for bears as predators,” says DuBois. “I just wanted Windermere to realize this bear is in the area, and will probably be protective of that meat he’s just stored.”

Invermere conservation officer, Greg Kruger, told the Pioneer that there have been plenty of bear sightings recently, which is typical this time of year, as bears push to eat more calories and put on extra fat before going into hibernation. That said, Kruger did note that, “there does seem to be an increase in bear activity in the Columbia Valley this fall, as compared with this time of year the past couple of seasons.”

With all the extra bears out and about in towns and near roadways, five bears have been killed in the valley during the past week. Three were euthanized for safety reasons after spending too much time seeking out non-natural food sources in populated parts of the valley, one was put down by conservation officers being hit and mortally injured by a vehicle on Highway 95 near Edgewater, and another was killed outright after being hit by a vehicle collision on Highway 93/95 near the Valley Alley Bowling Centre.

Of the three black bears killed for safety reasons, one was put down in Wilmer by conservation officers after repeatedly breaking into backyard chicken coops there. Another was put down in Invermere’s Wilder subdivision after multiple days of getting into garbage and fruit trees in that neighbourhood. The third was killed by the crossroads.

Several residents had talked to the Pioneer about the Wilder bear, describing (or showing photos of) it gorging on garbage at different houses, basking in sunlit front lawns, and pooping in backyards.

“Unfortunately, it had really become a safety issue, with the bear having become quite comfortable getting into backyards during the day time. “That’s not normal bear behaviour,” says Kruger, adding conservation officers last week issued multiple tickets (each carrying a $230 fine) under the Wildlife Act to Wilder residents who had left garbage outdoors on non-garbage pickup days, including three on Sunday, Oct. 3, the day the Wilder bear was finally euthanized.

“One of the problem location was a short term rental (STR). The people staying just did not seem to understand that in bear country, you can’t keep garbage outdoors,” says Kruger.

Aside from the five bears that have been killed along with the one in Windmere, Kruger said there have been reports of a Grizzly bear on the Toby Benches (as there was last year), getting into chicken coops, reports of a black bear in the Fort Point neighbourhood in Invermere, and a black bear sow and cubs in Radium, as well as other bear activity in Fairmont and Windermere.

Kruger pointed out that aside from the $230 fine under the Wildlife Act, leaving garbage out on non pick-up days, even if it is in the heavy plastic garbage bins given to residents by the District of Invermere, is against local municipal bylaws.

Repeat offences after the initial $230 ticket will result in a $570 fine.

“Sometimes part of the issue seems to be that, the garbage bins from the District of Invermere, people assume they are bear-resistant, when in fact they are not bear-resistant. Those bins cannot be left outdoors with garbage in them. That has to wait until pickup day, and even then, they should only be out, at most, a few hours before pickup,” says Kruger. “Garbage needs to be stored in a secure location, some place where it is not accessible for bears. Some people lock their garbage in the garage, some in their sheds, and some people keep it up on their balconies or decks, if they are absolutely sure there is no way a bear could climb up to their deck.”

“It can be tricky. We do hear from people who do not have any of these – no garages, sheds, or secure balconies – and they don’t like keeping their garbage inside because it really makes their house stink. We do understand that, but we live in bear country, and it is people’s responsibility to find a solution that works for them,” continues Kruger. “Bears are not going to be picky. Garbage, fruit from trees, a dirty barbeque, whatever they can find, they’re going to eat it…It always comes down to a food source. People need to help us by not giving bears easy access to non-natural food sources. No food sources, no bear problems, simple as that.”

All bear sightings should be reported on the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1-877-952 7277.