Ucluelet’s food-conditioned bear is not a candidate for relocation

Conservation Officer says bear is too far-gone and must be destroyed

By failing to secure our garbage, and failing to report our sightings, we have failed to protect a bear’s life.

The BC Conservation Officer Service (CO) has set up a bear trap in Ucluelet and the black bear being targeted will be destroyed because it has become addicted to human garbage, according to Conservation Officer Steve Ackles.

Ackles told the Westerly the bear has been allowed to feed on unsecured garbage for too long for relocation to be an option.

“If a bear has gotten that conditioned and habituated behaviour, that’s not a candidate for relocation,” he said.

“The bear’s behaviour has become that to where it’s become protective of human food sources and it’s breaking into secured structures to get at garbage.”

He said recent reports suggest the bear has broken into a vehicle, as well as a shed, in search of garbage and was also seen walking near the Co-op grocery store showing no fear of humans.

“My experience tells me it’s been going on for a long time,” he said of the bear’s habituated behaviour.

“A wild bear doesn’t just show up in town and start breaking into sheds for garbage. It’s a learned behaviour and it’s due to having gotten rewards out of garbage cans.”

Ackles suggested proactive measures could have been taken to save the bear’s life if the CO had found out about its behaviour early enough but locals did not report their sightings until it was too late.

“People don’t call us until it’s too late and then we have no choice other than to trap it and take it out of the population, which means destroy it,” he said.

“I’ve seen it time and time again in those interface areas where we educate people and the bear will just simply go back to natural food sources, but if we don’t have that time it’s too late and it gets frustrating…If that behaviour lasts more than a month, it’s like an addiction to methamphetamines; the bear is not going to go back to feeding on natural food sources.”

He urges anyone who spots a bear in town to contact the CO at 1-877-952-7277.

“If we can get ahead of it, and people do the right thing, we can save the bear,” he said.

“By not getting those phone calls and reports of a bear being sighted or getting into garbage or a compost or a bird feeder, it gives the bear no chance.”

Ackles acknowledged some people hesitate to call the CO but said this hesitation is misguided.

“People think we’re just going to show up and destroy the bear,” he said.

“People don’t realize the amount of time and effort we put into educating and trying to get those attractants put away to get that bear off the non-natural attractants.”

Locals must keep attractants secured and garbage bins out of sight.

“If (bears) have gotten a reward out of a garbage can, even that visual of a garbage can, whether you keep food in it or not, it’s going to look in there because it got food there once,” Ackles said. “They’re very smart animals.”

Ackles was in Ucluelet last week and was frustrated by the amount of unsecured attractants and visible garbage bins he saw.

“I wasn’t really impressed with people’s attractant management,” he said

“I don’t know what the motivation is, whether it’s being lazy, forgetful, or they just don’t care but apparently they do care when a bear’s put down because you see it all over the media.”

He noted locals can hardly use ignorance as an excuse for leaving attractants out.

“The messaging goes out all the time, every year, and it’s frustrating for us,” he said. “You can’t tell me by now, in Ucluelet, people don’t know the right thing to do about attractants.”

He suggested any anger directed at the CO whenever a bear is destroyed should really be directed at those who aren’t managing their attractants properly.

“I don’t know a CO that hasn’t given 110 per cent throughout their career to save the bears,” Ackles said. “Unfortunately we have to put bears down at times, and it’s not a fun thing to do. It’s not something I ever want to do again.”

He added bears are commonplace around Ucluelet and most don’t cause concern.

“If there’s a bear there that, when it sees people, runs away and it’s not getting into garbage…if there’s never any aggressive or threatening behaviour, we’re not going to respond to that. You live in bear country and that’s just part of life,” he said.

“But once the bear starts becoming conditioned to human food sources and habituated to people being near them, and desensitized, that’s when their behaviour changes.”

Ucluelet’s garbage collection bylaw—No. 960, 2004—stipulates that garbage bins must be placed at the curb “no earlier than 5 a.m. and no later than 8 a.m. on the regularly scheduled day for collection.”

The fine for improperly storing garbage is $50 for the first offence and $100 for any subsequent offences.

 

andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca