Behold! Better behaviour breaks down Basin-wide bear battles

Human / bear conflict numbers down

By Katie Watt

It’s not them. It’s us. And just when we decide to clean up our act, they decide to dump us. But it’s better this way, for both of us. The black bears of the Columbia Basin are beginning to break up with the area’s population.

According to a recent press release by the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT), there has been a significant, basin-wide decrease in human bear conflicts since 2016. In 2016, there were 2,300 human-bear conflicts reported. In 2018, however, that number was more than cut in half, with only 1,032 reports made.

According to Jenna Milne, local Wildsafe BC coordinator, Invermere is helping to set the trend.

“We definitely noticed the decrease in conflicts last season,” she says. In 2016, the community of Invermere reported 117 conflicts, while in 2018 only 26 were reported.

“For the most part, the conflicts are caused by human attractants. 60 per cent of the bear-related calls we get are related to garbage,” says Ms. Milne.

And it isn’t just garbage; there are many other ways to attract bears, and some are ways that people may not even consider. For example, not cleaning a barbecue after use can attract bears. Bird feeders can pose a risk as well, since bears are attracted to the calorically dense food source. Commonly in Invermere, fallen or unharvested fruit from trees can be an especially attractive food source.

“Wildsafe aims to provide education to reduce these conflicts” says Ms. Milne. To help reduce conflicts, she has gone door to door to alert homeowners that fruit or unsecured garbage on their lawn may attract bears to their property. To further education, Ms. Milne often attends local events with her Wildsafe booth to share informational pamphlets and answer questions about wildlife-safe practices.

Last season, a unique effort to tackle the issue of unharvested fruit trees was made by Wildsafe in conjunction with the local Groundswell Network Society. Together, the two organizations partnered to remove unharvested apples from the trees of primarily seniors and second homeowners who were unable to do it themselves. In total, volunteers collected 1,550 lbs of apples.

Initiatives such as this, says Mike Badry, wildlife conflict manager for the province of B.C., are part of what’s helping to reduce these conflicts.

“There is no one reason in particular that human-bear conflicts have declined,” says Mr. Badry. “There are so many different variables, but increasing education, and better managing trash and other bear attractants has certainly helped to decrease conflicts.”

Currently, this time of year is when the bears begin to reappear from a long winter’s rest.

“The highest point of conflicts is in September,” says Ms. Milne, adding that “we do tend to see an increase begin in June and July, however.”

No bear sightings have been reported yet in Invermere, but in the community of Fairmont Hot Springs, two black bears have already been spotted.

To report a sighting, contact the Wildlife Alert Reporting Program at 1-877-952-7277.

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