Habituated bear in Ucluelet

CO urges West Coasters to keep garbage secured and wildlife wild

The West Coast’s inability to manage its attractants has forced a juvenile bear onto death row.

A bear that walked into a Millstream residence looking for food on July 12 will be killed, according to B.C. Conservation Officer Steve Ackles.

“Unfortunately, this bear has gone over the line where it’s entered a home and I’m going to have to put it down,” Ackles told the Westerly News.

“The number one part of my job is public safety. Once bears become habituated and I see that behaviour becoming a threat to people, I have to do my job and unfortunately that’s the destruction of an animal.”

The bear began being spotted around campgrounds near the West Coast Junction about three weeks ago, according to Ackles who said conservation officers tried to educate area residents about securing garbage and livestock but the bear made its way into Millstream and its behaviours escalated before it could be convinced to stay away.

He said the bear got into chicken coops and sealed its fate when it entered a residence.

“It’s not the bear’s fault,” Ackles said. “The problem is people aren’t managing their attractants properly.”

He suggested locals have few excuses for not knowing the importance of securing their attractants and said neighbourhoods must do a better job of keeping local wildlife wild and alive.

“It’s really frustrating,” he said. “If we manage our attractants, we can save bears, keep them wild and prevent me from having to do this.”

He urges West Coasters to avoid using bird feeders, keep all garbage and pet food secured indoors and care for chickens responsibly.

“I know people want to come out and raise their own chickens and eat their own eggs and I’m all for that, but they have to do their part in managing and protecting their livestock,” he said.

He encourages anyone keeping chickens to use electric fencing and suggested putting globs of peanut butter on tinfoil along this fencing so bears will get a jolt and know to stay away.

He said bears are “extremely intelligent” and will choose the path of least resistance when it comes to scoring a meal so locals must make it hard for them to access unnatural food sources.

“We have an abundance of food for a bear on the West Coast here but it takes that bear about 8 hours in the wild to get 20,000 calories; ten minutes in a garbage can will bring that same amount of calories,” he said.

He said once a bear has grown accustomed to human food, it’s hard to cure that addiction.

“They become conditioned to human food and habituated to people and, once they’re habituated to people, then they become defensive with those non-natural food sources so that garbage is now something it defends,” he said.

“It’s a desensitization until that bear becomes a real threat…Bear attacks on Vancouver Island are extremely rare. I was an investigator on both serious attacks on the Island and they were both due to habituated bears that had been conditioned to human food sources.”

He said bears will always roam the Coast but locals can keep them safe by keeping them away.

“If the people in these rural areas are doing all the right things, the bear sticks to natural food sources,” he said.

“Don’t let a bear feel comfortable. Throw rocks, bang pots and pans, use air-horns, keep that bear wild and scared of people. The healthiest bear is a wild bear.”

He urges anyone who spots a bear hanging around a human-use area to report their sighting to the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277 so that officers can work on reducing attractants before the animal’s behaviour escalates.

“People think we’re just going to show up and kill it. They don’t realize that most of my job is trying to save the bear,” he said.

“We’re always the ‘Grim Reapers’ but my goal is always to save a bear…There’s a lot of things we can do but people have to educate themselves and care.”

He noted conservation officers can issue fines to anyone found leaving garbage unsecured.

Conservation Officer Dan Eichstadter told the Westerly on July 28 that the bear had not yet been destroyed but continues to be monitored.

Read more in next week’s Westerly News on newsstands August 3.