Bears invade Castlegar

Poor berry crop drives bears into town in larger numbers than previous years.

An ever increasing influx of bears over the past few weeks is becoming quite the problem for residents, conservation officers and bears alike.

WildSafeBC community coordinator for Castlegar Jenny Wallace stated, “The bear situation is Castlegar right now is crazy. It is very different from the last two seasons.” She blames the increase on the hot dry summer and the failed huckleberry crop.

“The root cause of most human wildlife conflict is food,” continued Wallace. “Food conditioned bears are potentially very dangerous bears.” The improper storage and management of attractants like garbage, fruit trees, compost and recycling lies at the heart of the problem. Many of the current conflicts involve unpicked ripe fruit.

With as much education efforts as have been done by WildSafeBC (formerly Bear Aware) and the City of Castlegar, it is hard to believe that there is still a large problem with residents putting their garbage out the night before their scheduled pick up. Some residents have been keeping their garbage in, but putting their recycling out early, which is still an attractant because of the smell, even though it does not end up as a reward for the bear.

At their last meeting, city council discussed instructing staff to be more aggressive in ticketing the bylaw breaking action in order ensure residents are limiting the attractants.

Unfortunately, there is no local source for bear resistant garbage containers. However, Home Hardware will order in Ty-Dee bins for residents interested in a bear proof garbage storage locker. Another option comes from Rollins Machinery in Langley, they offer a 32 gallon bear resistant cart for $175 plus tax and delivery or a 64 gallon version for $195 you can see these containers at www.bearproofcontainers.com.

Conservation officer Tobe Sprado reports that his office has received about 100 bear complaints, with most of those occurring in the last few weeks. This has resulted in the necessity of putting down seven bears. “That is one of the most distasteful parts of our job, having to put down wildlife,” said Sprado.

Conservation officers take careful consideration before making the decision to put down a bear. Sprado said, “We are extremely cautious.”

The decision is usually reserved for a bear that has been deemed aggressive. This would include behaviour such as property damage like trying to break into a home or garage. Another form of aggressive behaviour is when the bear knows you are there and then lowers its ears, puts its head down and pops its jaws. Side swiping with paws, growling and making bluff charges are also warning signs. Another concern are solitary bears that are active during the day. The final category is bears that hang out around school grounds and play grounds.

Bears that roam at night looking for fruit and garbage, especially sows with cubs are not as concerning. “It’s an attractant problem, it’s not a bear problem,” said Sprado.

Sprado would really like to see the public make a better effort picking fruit and nuts and making sure there is no rotting fruit on the ground. He emphasized that leaving the fruit is just putting your family at risk. Even though a mauling is extremely rare for a fruit or garbage fed bear, it does happen. Food conditioned, habituated bears quickly become problem bears. Sprado recommends that if you are determined to keep the fruit on your trees until it is completely ripe then an electric fence is a good deterrent.

If you have a problem bear in your neighbourhood you can call the BC Conservation Service 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-877-952-7277.