Be ‘Bear Smart’ during the fall

Bears are out in full force, trying to bulk up before the winter hibernation.

As British Columbia’s bears go through their annual ritual of preparing for hibernation, avoiding conflicts between bears and humans is a particularly high priority during the fall season.

At this time of year, bears are actively seeking out food to build up fat reserves, creating potential for trouble when they get access to non-natural food sources. For example, exposed pet food, ripe fruit, improperly stored garbage, dirty barbecues and easily accessible composts all can create problems. Bears who find such food soon will repeatedly return to these food sources. This often leads to conflict with humans.

“It’s so very important to keep British Columbians – and our bears – safe, and the key to accomplishing this is to minimize the risks of conflict. We all share responsibility for making sure this happens, especially by making sure we don’t provide bears with non-natural food sources,” said Environment Minister Terry Lake.

Once a bear is conditioned to non-natural food sources, it is extremely difficult to solve the problem without euthanizing the bear. Despite the best efforts of conservation officers, relocation and other non-lethal solutions are rarely successful.

“The last thing conservation officers want to do is euthanize bears or other wildlife. They look for every possible alternative before doing so. In the case of conflict between bears and humans, prevention is the only real way to keep everyone safe,” Lake said.

Relocated bears typically return or become problem bears in other communities. In addition, they often fail to adapt to their new habitat and, as a result, either starve or are killed by bears already occupying the area.

“Once a bear has become conditioned to feeding on human foods, it is extremely difficult to change its behaviour. Relocation is often unsuccessful, so it is far preferable to stop conflicts before they occur. That’s what Bear Aware and Bear Smart are all about,” Ministry of Environment wildlife conflicts prevention co-ordinator Michael Badry.

The only effective, long-term solution is to prevent conflicts between bears and humans from occurring in the first place.

New for the 2012 bear season is a brand-new mapping system on the Bear Aware website that gives a reasonable approximation of where human-wildlife interactions are occurring throughout the province.

The Bear Aware education program helps reduce human-bear conflict in residential areas. Administered by the BC Conservation Foundation and funded by the B.C. government in partnership with municipalities and supporting organizations, the program focuses on education, innovation and co-operation and has proven effective in decreasing conflicts.