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Animals

British Columbia’s Latest Bear Smart Community

Originally Published in the ECOreport

Naramata is British Columbia’s latest Bear Smart Community. Kamloops, Squamish, Lions Bay, Whistler and Port Alberni have previously been recognized and another 20 communities are actively pursuing this status.

In order to achieve Bear Smart status, communities must:

  • Prepare a bear hazard assessment of the community and surrounding area.
  • Prepare a human-bear conflict management plan designed to address bear hazards and land use conflicts.
  • Revise planning and decision-making documents to be consistent with the human-bear conflict management plan.
  • Implementing a continuing education program, directed at all sectors of the community.
  • Developing and maintaining a bear-proof municipal solid waste management system.
  • Implementing Bear Smart bylaws prohibiting feeding bears, whether as a result of intent, neglect, or irresponsible management of attractants.

More than half of the complaints the Province’s Conservation Officer Service receives every year are about bears. Around 658 black bears are destroyed every year and another 91 are relocated.

Mary Polak, Minister of Environment, explained, “On average, seven bears a year were being destroyed in Naramata because of conflicts with people. Since engaging in the Bear Smart program, this number was drastically reduced to only two bears in four years.”

Black Bear - Photo by Mike Bender, USFWS

“When bears come out of hibernation, they look for new food sources and that increases the chances of conflict with people,” said Mike Badry, Provincial Wildlife Conflicts Prevention Coordinator.

He said that hazing bears can keep them away from communities, until they start associating humans with food.

Garbage, bird feed, pet food and compost are all choice pickings.

“The biggest food source that bears get into is garbage,” Badry said. “So you want to secure your garbage in a bear resistant container, or a garage.”

Once a bear makes the connection that people mean a food reward, it’s very difficult to keep it away from human communities.

“They are highly motivated to get that food reward,” Badry added.

More than half of the complaints the Province’s Conservation Officer Service receives every year are about bears. Around 658 black bears are destroyed every year and another 91 are relocated.

Badry does not have much hope for domesticated bears that are relocated. Many starve, or are killed by other predators. Others either find a new human settlement or return to the one they have just been evicted. Few successfully adapt to the territory where they were transported.

The best solution is for communities to take responsibility for its actions and eliminate the behavior that attracts bears.

“Once a bear has become food conditioned, the only real option is to destroy that animal. It becomes a public safety issue,” Badry said.

If more British Columbian communities become Bear Smart, the province won’t have to kill so many bears.




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