By Steve Hubrecht

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The bears are back in town. 

Like cooler, crisper evenings and the yellow of a few tree leaves, bruins wandering residential streets are a sure sign of seasonal change in Invermere.

A sure sign, yes, but for most people not exactly a welcome one. Still, you can hardly blame the bears for trying their darndest to fatten up before hibernation. What you can do, and should do — and what unfortunately some people are not doing — is to get rid of natural bear attractants, such as ripe fruit hanging on trees, and secure unnatural ones (your garbage) so the bears can’t get it.

So far it’s been a great year in terms of there not being much human-bear conflict. But that could change — a black bear sow and her three cubs have been ambling around the Wilder subdivision, southern Invermere and the parts of Invermere near the local primary, elementary and high school. Local conservation officers are asking the public to be alert.

“Up until the last two weeks it has been almost unprecedented for the low number of bear conflicts in the Columbia Valley in terms of what we see at the Conservation Officer Service,” senior Columbia Valley conservation officer Greg Kruger told the Pioneer last week.

An abundance of rain early in the spring and summer and then significant heat created a bumper natural berry crop, which has kept the bears busy up in the hills, explained Kruger. “If there is a natural food source, they will focus on that. And this year that’s exactly what they did.”

But that crop is now starting to dry up, at least in the hills, and as a result bears are coming down to the valley bottom.

“So we’re seeing an influx of bear sightings and bear complaints now. In Radium, in Invermere, in Panorama, in Windermere, and in Fairmont Hot Springs,” said Kruger. “In Invermere over the last five days, we’ve had a sow with three cubs actively moving around.”

When the Pioneer spoke with Kruger on Friday, Sept. 8, the most recent sighting of the bear family had been the day prior on 10th Avenue in the Wilder subdivision.

“They are in Wilder, in the parts of Invermere off Westside Road and up closer to the schools. They’re getting fruit up in (fruit) trees and on the ground and they are snooping around for unsecured garbage,” he said. 

Invermere resident Andy Stuart-Hill has lived in the Wilder subdivision for 53 years, and has seen plenty of bears in the neighbourhood over those decades, but explained that this is the first time he’s seen a mother bear with three cubs there.

Kruger strongly emphasized the need for residents to secure their garbage and help prevent a negative outcome for the bear family.

“It’s extremely difficult for us to deal with a (bear) family group. We really want to avoid having to euthanize the mother bear. Relocating a family of orphaned cubs is very hard,” he said.

Conservation officers have had to deal with improperly secured garbage in Rushmere, Windermere, Panorama and Radium.

“We have a common recurring issue, that should not be recurring, with people putting their garbage in wooden bins that are not really bear proof,” explained Kruger, adding there is a $230 fine under the Wildlife Act for attracting dangerous wildlife to land or premises. 

“We don’t want to have to do that (give fines), but people do need to be more responsible about not habituating bears to human food sources.”

Conservation officers recently trapped a bear at Panorama Mountain Resort. They were trying to catch a bear that had been getting into restaurant grease traps, but ended up catching a different bear instead.

“It was not the target bear that we caught,” said Kruger, so it was tranquilized and then relocated.

Bear sightings or bear conflicts should be reported to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hot line at 1-877-952-7277.