VICTORIA - 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.
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.
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.
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.
This year the B.C. government has contributed $225,000 to Bear Aware. Bear Aware is part of the Ministry of Environment's Bear Smart Community Program, a voluntary, preventative bear conservation program that encourages communities to address the root causes of bear-human conflicts, thereby earning "Bear Smart" status.
Environment Minister Terry Lake -
"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."
"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."
Ministry of Environment wildlife conflicts prevention co-ordinator Michael Badry -
"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."
- Black bears typically hibernate for three to five months on British Columbia's South Coast and for longer periods (five to seven months) in the Interior and the North.
- With only about six months to build up fat reserves for hibernation, black bears must eat a lot of food. They are particularly attracted to foods that are abundant and high in protein and energy and that they can get with little effort.
- Bears' search for food can bring them into contact with people, especially when non-natural food sources attract bears near where people live or recreate.
- Making sure non-natural food sources are unavailable to bears is the best way to keep bears and people safe.
Information on the Bear Smart Communities program: www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/bearsmart/bearsmintro.html
Bear Aware education program: www.bearaware.bc.ca
Report human-wildlife conflicts to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line toll-free at 1 877 952-7277 (RAPP), or visit the RAPP website at: www.rapp.bc.ca
Ministry of Environment Communications