–from Wild Wise Sooke
Sooke Bears are in conflict and if we don’t clean up the garbage soon, more are likely to follow.
Currently there are bear problems in Sooke. Bears are largely inactive during the winter months, but access to human food sources like garbage means that the natural hibernation cycle of bears can be interrupted; the result is often increased human-bear conflict.
Contrary to popular belief, Vancouver Island bears do not truly hibernate, but enter a deep sleep state or denning period. During the winter months, natural food sources grow scarce and bears rest as a way of conserving energy, relying on body fat reserves in order to survive. But as alternative food sources become available — say, garbage, pet food, and bird feed — bears are provided with the calories they need to not only stay awake, but active.
Wild Wise Sooke is issuing a public advisory to raise awareness about the growing bear problem this winter. As a solution, residents are strongly encouraged to help manage bear attractants and lessen the human impact on our cherished local wildlife.
“Educate yourself; take part. Look for the public advisory messages,” say Debb Read, Urban Wildlife Conflict Specialist; “there are signs, flyers, and posters in local communities, on public notice boards, and information is available on social media websites.” These sources of information are designed to help readers understand the kinds of things bears might be attracted to, and how best to discourage them from sticking around.
“Put yourself in the bears’ shoes: consider your property as an area to forage for food. If you notice anything a bear might want to eat, secure it.” Read also warns that if residents won’t help, more tragic incidents like the one that occurred on Friday will follow.
On Friday, November 16th, in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, a black bear was ‘destroyed’ because it had become habituated to human-provided foods; it was a threat to public safety.
“Once a bear starts associating human environments with food they tend lose their natural wariness and become what is called human-habituated,” says Read. Simply put, and indeed, this was the case on November 16th.
Instead of sleeping soundly, one black bear was wide awake, walking up and down the streets of Sooke. In fact, it was systematically searching the garbage bins left out the day before for collection. Long habituated to the community and its residents, it did so with a near total lack of fear, moving past shouting humans and barking dogs. Soon it started pushing on home windows, and testing doors looking for a way inside. This same bear had been seen in the area before, and was subsisting mainly on a diet of garbage, bird seed and compost.
“Earlier in summer the bear was probably living happily in the wild,” Read supposes. “It was more than likely accessing natural food sources and possessing a healthy respect for humans and the danger they pose.” But once it noticed things like greasy garbage bags, compost, and piles of bird feed, it began to change.
“This is not a problem residents can solve by interacting with the bear—in fact, that is the last thing we want you to do!”, says Read. Oftentimes people will try to scare a bear away by shouting or honking car horns, but again, this is not typically effective with habituated animals. “A bear simply learns that all the shouting, honking, and barking amounts to nothing, and focuses instead on finding more food… it just returns day after day to feed, and it only gets worse.”
Within the span of a few short months this black bear became almost totally comfortable in the presence of humans. It was seen at bus stops, walking along pathways, and in schoolyards and local parks. It fed freely from garbage cans beside houses, and was reported in back yards, pushing on windows, and even testing closed doors. Sadly, the bear’s behaviour had escalated to a point where it posed a significant risk to public safety. Consider, for example, if the bear had climbed in through an open window, or entered a home through the back door.
As you can imagine, members of the community sometimes grow concerned—and for good reason: it is not only a large wild animal, but one that was becoming more and more bold. The problem, however, is the fact that this wild animal’s behaviour has been significantly changed due to its interactions in the human environment. It was essentially allowed to forage for garbage, bird seed, and compost since these kinds of food sources were made freely available to it.
It is Conservation Officer Service’s job to help prevent the kinds of circumstances that lead to aggressive and dangerous behaviours; it is also their job to take action. Once a bear reaches this state, there are typically few good options. If the behaviour persists, it is only a matter of time before it comes before an Officer—following a serious incident.
If a habituated bear refuses to back off when confronted, it may also display aggressive behaviour. It is therefore considered a threat to the neighbourhood and its residents. Again, the role of the Conservation Officer Service is to keep residents safe. And the real source of the problem lies with us, not the bear; this problem is entirely preventable.
Conservation Officers have no desire to destroy bears. In fact, they attempt to educate people about conflict prevention in hopes of stopping these kinds of extreme incidents. They are “public safety officers focused on natural resource law enforcement and human wildlife conflicts prevention and response”. Blaming Conservation Officers for the destruction of bears is common, but does not contribute positively to the situation. Residents should instead consider the events that led up to its destruction, and the things that they can do to prevent it in the future.
Bear relocation is also not a viable option. From the outside, it may seem like a solution in favour of the destruction habituated bears. Sadly, however, this is almost never the case. Research has shown that even healthy bears often starve in unfamiliar environments. What’s more, by the time habituated bears are reported as ‘problem bears’, they are generally unhealthy and living on a diet of mostly garbage. Bears are also territorial, and relocation can lead to other conflicts and problems that put them in danger. In general, relocation is mostly unsuccessful, and is largely considered inhumane.
We must remember that the bear is not to blame– the real problem is the unsecured attractants, the garbage, and the failure of residents to responsibly manage those attractants. It is not only the responsible thing to do, but it is also the law.
Multiple bylaws and regulations have been passed in order to protect our wildlife, nature, and ourselves. Sooke bylaw 392 – 51.1, for example, states that:
“no person shall provide any wildlife with food either directly or by leaving or placing in, on or about land or premises any food, food waste, or other material that is or is likely to be attractive to wildlife for the purpose of feeding those animals.”
Further, the purpose of the B.C. Wildlife Act is to “ensure the wise management of our wildlife resources and minimize the negative impacts of human activities.” This means, among other things, that (33.1) no person shall
(a)intentionally feed or attempt to feed dangerous wildlife, or
(b)provide, leave or place an attractant in, on or about any land or premises with the intent of attracting dangerous wildlife.[and]
(2)A person must not leave or place an attractant in, on or about any land or premises where there are or where there are likely to be people, in a manner in which the attractant could
(a)attract dangerous wildlife to the land or premises, and
(b)be accessible to dangerous wildlife.
Thankfully, we have an excellent public awareness program in Sooke that provides residents with consultation and assistance to help manage wildlife attractants—it’s name is Wild Wise Sooke. Reading material is also widely available online about how to reduce risk and conflict with bears. Sadly, many residents choose to ignore this basic advice.
Wild Wise Sooke asks you to remember: the problem is not the bear! Please secure all bear attractants and encourage bears to forage in the wild. Help us to avoid bears being destroyed, becoming threats to the community, or causing someone serious harm.
If you have a conflict with a bear, stop and ask yourself: what did I do to cause this? And what can I do to prevent it?
To report conflicts with wildlife please call the RAPP line at 1-877-952 7277.
Sam Webb – Community Coordinator
Debbie Read-Urban Wildlife Conflict Specialist
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- Wild Wise Sooke issues dire warning: clean up your trash or see more bear conflicts
- Preparing for hibernation season in bear country
- Preparation for hibernation puts bears on a massive calorie intake search
- Want fewer bears put down? Manage your garbage, pick your fruit!
- Increased bear sightings, what you need to know, and how to keep bears alive
- Bear sightings at Potholes, between parking lots 3 and 2
- Black bear wants some water play in Sunriver
- A sure sign of spring for residents of Sooke is the return of bears.
- Bear in Area signs emerge from hibernation
- Wild Wise Sooke presents falling numbers in Sooke
- Bear conflicts are on the rise
- Wild Wise Sooke reminds SUNRIVER residents to store garbage indoors and manage attractions
- Reminder from Wild Wise Sooke: Bears are emerging from the hills
- Be bear-wise in Sooke: Bear-proof your yard
- First bear destroyed, Wild Wise Sooke urges education
- Be Bear Wise: Wild Wise Sooke suggests spring cleaning, minimize attractants
- More cougar cautions for Sooke Potholes hiking area
- Good to Know: How to deal with a surprise encounter with a black bear
- A Bear’s Bill of Rights, from Wild Wise Sooke