Ian Fry and Max Brown from Selkirk College Ecology program.

Ian Fry and Max Brown from Selkirk College Ecology program.

OPINION: Homemade lid bear-proofs garbage cans for Salmo

As humans and wildlife are forced to share the same areas some conflicts will inevitably occur.

Wildlife habitat has always been sacrificed for the development of urban areas.

As humans and wildlife are forced to share the same areas some conflicts will inevitably occur.

Raccoons have been known to get into people’s garbage, dig up their lawns, and nest in attics and garages. Cougars and coyotes have been observed more frequently in urban areas and pose a risk to pets and small children. All across B.C., black bears regularly enter urban areas to find food.

Black bears are opportunists when looking for food, they will take whatever is available when they are hungry. There are many different food sources available for bears in urban areas, including garbage, fruit trees, compost, and dog food.

Garbage is the most prevalent attractant to bears, accounting for 55 per cent of all reports to the Conservation Officer Service.

Bears evolved from a strictly carnivorous diet to a flexible, omnivorous diet. In fact, up to 85 percent of a black bear’s diet can be comprised of plant foods.

During early spring, after bears leave their dens and are most hungry, many plant are underdeveloped and scarce. Black bears can be forced to scavenge on south-facing slopes for berries, carcasses and exposed grasses amid the snowmelt.

When an abundant and readily available food source presents itself, particularly human-created garbage, bears are known to act opportunistically. Comparing what is available in the wild and in town, garbage is much more plentiful than overwintered animal carcasses.

The bears around Salmo occasionally enter Salmo in search of food. They find food in the municipal garbage cans as well as those cans of the public. Coming into town, searching for and finding food causes the bears to become habituated to moving around the urban environment and can ultimately lead to human-bear conflicts.

Bears trying to access garbage can cause property damage trying to access garbage and can potentially jeopardize the safety of pets and humans.

In 2015, four bears that ventured into the Village of Salmo looking for more easily accessible garbage were destroyed because of the threat they posed.

In an effort to minimize the number bears that need to be destroyed, the Village of Salmo converted all of their municipal garbage cans into bear-proof containers during the first week of September, 2016.

Brand new bear bins can range from $1,500 to $2,500, so replacing the garbage bins with brand-new ones was not an option for the village of 1,100.

Months earlier, Salmo requested design proposals from the public. Local contractor Will Wadsworth created the winning design. He designed a simple locking lid that could be welded onto the village’s existing concrete bins. His design was a fifth of the cost of the next highest bidder.

The Village of Salmo saved $20,000 by going with Wadsworth’s design instead of installing new bear bins. Once bears become acclimatized to being near humans, their likelihood to cause conflict heightens exponentially.

Pre-emptive action like Wadsworth’s lid protects more than just waste; it protects neighbourhoods from problematic bears, and non-food conditioned bears from becoming nuisances.

Residents can take their own pre-emptive measures to protect local bears too. Residents should properly store their household waste, compost, and any other attractants in a secure location that bears will not be able to access.

Residents can also mitigate the risk of bear-human conflicts by regularly picking ripe fruit and berries from trees and bushes in town, this eliminates a food attractant for bears in residential areas.

We don’t need to destroy any more bears.