A growing number of bear-human interactions has led to a corresponding increase in bear deaths in B.C. so far this year.
Since April, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service has fielded 8,900 black-bear related calls — almost double the 4,900 calls logged for the same period last year.
“These numbers are some of the highest we have seen in 10 years,” said Frank Ritcey, provincial coordinator of WildSafeBC.
“It’s hard to say what’s going on there,” he said of the dramatic increase. “It could be there’s a few more bears, or a few bears are being more active, or people are more aware and phoning it in more.
“But it’s an indicator that we’re still not doing the right things.”
Large spikes have occurred in the south coast, Skeena, Vancouver Island, and West Kootenay, while North Vancouver recorded a fourfold jump from 101 last year to 476 so far this year, according to the Wildlife Alert Reporting Program.
Coquitlam, which reports the highest number of bear activity reports out of all communities in B.C., saw calls climb from 417 last year to 838 so far this year.
The increased conflicts have also led to a near-doubling in the number of bears killed, to 233 between April and July compared to 123 for the same period last year. Bears are euthanized when they become habituated to human food and are deemed dangerous.
On Saturday, a Coquitlam resident got a shock when he heard a noise in the kitchen and found a hungry bear looking for food.
The bear had come into his house, in a quiet cul-de-sac that backs onto a mountain, through an open door and went straight to the fridge and opened it, said conservation officer Jack Trudgian.
Conservation and RCMP officers responded. The bear, which fled the house, was spotted nearby, and was put down.
“When a bear enters the house, it becomes a public safety issue,” said Trudgian. “Bears don’t know what a fridge is, or what a house is … that means most likely it’s learned this behaviour.”
Under such circumstances, relocation is no longer an option.
Trudgian said people who live in greenbelts where there is a history of bear activity should keep their windows and doors closed, even in the summer.
The increase in the number of bear-human conflicts could be chalked up to the late spring, which has dried up bears’ berry sources, forcing them to come down to urban areas where they had luck foraging for food in the past, said Ritcey.
Garbage is the top “attractant” that leads bears to urban areas, followed by fruit trees and pets. In Coquitlam, garbage accounts for more than half of calls regarding bears, prompting the municipality to step up enforcement.
The city recently conducted an audit of more than 25,000 properties and found that 17 per cent were putting out their garbage bins and green carts at the curb the night before their collection day, contrary to bylaws.
“It’s surprising the message hasn’t gotten through over 12 years of education and enforcement,” said Caresse Selk, the city’s environmental stewardship coordinator.
But the good news is that in areas like Burke Mountain, where the city has actively stepped up education and enforcement, “we are seeing high compliance in those neighbourhoods,” she said.
During the audit, the city handed out 200, $500 tickets for setting garbage out early. In total this year, 316 tickets have been issued for the violation.
The city is currently testing bear-proof bins at a facility in Kamloops. The process still has to go through a costing process, said Selk.
Ritcey warns there may be more bear-human interactions to come, with the peak usually occurring in the third week of September. People have to be more proactive in deterring bears and the solution, he says, is simple:
“If people can manage their garbage properly, we would have a lot less conflict in B.C.”
For tips on how to be bear smart, visit WildSafeBC.