COLUMN: Conservation officers caught in middle as bear deaths rise

COLUMN: Conservation officers caught in middle as bear deaths rise

Who is responsible for growing numbers of black bear deaths in urban areas?

By Kara Laurie-Serruys and Becca Merenyi

This past summer, residents of a Lower Mainland neighborhood had a rather interesting awakening. Three of their neighbours were arrested after interfering with conservation officers (CO) and members of the RCMP from destroying a family of black bears — a mum and two cubs. This bear family were considered “problem bears” in the area. Coquitlam, the area where the incident occurred, is known to have one of the highest populations of black bears because it borders remote wilderness areas.

Within the last two years, the number of calls to COs regarding bears in and around neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland has doubled. Due to human negligence, garbage is often the main attractant for these magnificent creatures. Bears will consume whatever food is easiest to get, and the easiest snack around often comes from a human source.

Bears that consistently rely on human sources of food can become habituated (too comfortable around humans) and dangerous. These bears are called problem bears because they no longer have a healthy fear of humans. Without the natural avoidance one would find in non-habituated bears, these bears pose an ever-increasing threat to human safety and as such are often destroyed.

In the summer of 2019, approximately 108 black bears were destroyed by COs in the Lower Mainland, compared to 54 in the previous year. Eight orphaned cubs were placed into the care of a wildlife rehabilitation centre after their mothers were identified as problem bears and had to be destroyed. The increase in black bear deaths has upset many members of the public as they are used to living alongside the bears and consider them a special part of the area in which they live.

Members of the public have inquired about relocation as a possible alternative to help save problem bears. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with that option. First, you’d have to relocate bears a very long distance away, otherwise they tend to find their way back to where they came from. Second, black bears are very common in B.C. — there are no “open” unoccupied bear habitats to which problem bears can be relocated. A relocated bear is normally placed in the habitat of resident bears and this simply doesn’t work.

Unfortunately, COs are now often seen as villains for destroying bears. Some residents are also spreading the idea that you should not call a CO if you spot a bear in your neighbourhood. Conservation officers may now feel caught in the middle, trying to do their job but receiving criticism from the public for it. This attitude may have contributed to what happened in 2015; that summer a CO was suspended without pay for not destroying the cubs of a problem bear that was destroyed.

The main goal of both the COs and the concerned citizens is to reduce the number of problem bears that occur in neighbourhoods. If bears are in your neighbourhood, you can encourage them to pass through to wilder areas by reducing the number of attractants, such as garbage, fruit on or around trees, and compost. This may not reduce the number of bears in your area, but it will decrease the likelihood of the bears becoming habituated, enabling COs to use alternative tactics to encourage the bears to move along.

Kara Laurie-Serruys and Becca Merenyi are second year recreational fish and wildlife students at Selkirk College in Castlegar

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
RCMP: Small tin saved Trail man from stabbing

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
253 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths in Interior Health over the weekend

More than 1,000 cases in the region remain active

School District 8 is asking the education ministry to stop making the Foundation Skills Assessment data public. File photo
Kootenay Lake School District requests education ministry make annual student assessments private

The district is concerned the data is being misused by the Fraser Institute

Castlegar City Council at a pre-COVID meeting. File photo
Castlegar city council issues message to the community

“It’s more important than ever to come together and … ensure Castlegar is a great place to live.”

Zoey Uniat is now three months old. Photo: Submitted
Castlegar baby with rare disorder progressing towards coming home

Fundraiser for Zoey Uniat has raised more than $50,000

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

Sunnybank
COVID-19 related deaths at Oliver, West Kelowna and Vernon senior care homes

Sunnybank, Heritage Retirement Residence and Noric House recorded deaths over the weekend

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Most Read