It’s been a “horrible year” for bears in Tofino and Ucluelet, B.C. Conservation Officer Stu Bates told the Westerly News Tuesday morning.
The Conservation Officer Service killed an adult male black bear in Ucluelet on Monday, Oct. 25, that Bates said had been breaking into structures to access garbage and had forced its way into a garage earlier that day and pulled garbage out into the residence’s front yard.
That brings the death toll for West Coast black bears to 11 so far this year and Bates said that number will likely reach 12 in short order.
“There’s still another bear there somewhere that broke into several structures, so we have a trap set for it,” he said.
With the West Coast creeping towards 2019’s toll of 13 black bears killed, Bates noted other areas in his jurisdiction are not having the same problem.
“It’s an anomaly and it’s really only Ucluelet and Tofino,” he said. “We’re not having an unusually high year for calls or having to put bears down anywhere else in the central island other than Ucluelet and Tofino.”
He added that while the COS traditionally deals with sub-adult male bears, the reports coming in this year represent a wide range of ages.
He said it’s unclear where bears are initially accessing garbage and becoming addicted to it as conservation officers were on patrol in Tofino and Ucluelet last week, ready to dish out $230 fines to anyone with unsecured garbage or garbage bins left out the night before pickup, but “found nothing.”
“They’re not putting their garbage out the night before, that’s good. But these bears are accessing garbage somewhere because they don’t suddenly break into a garage to get into garbage unless they’ve already got garbage before,” he said. “These bears seem to have gotten into garbage somewhere else and now they’re breaking into garages, sheds and decks to get at it.”
He encourages anybody who sees a bear or unsecured attractants in town to contact the COS at
“We need to figure out where they’re getting this garbage from,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re all accessing garbage in someone’s backyard or some remote campground, but whatever these things are getting into all the time is where they’re getting habituated and then they’re coming to town and they’re thinking, ‘Hang on, I’ve smelled that before.’ You have to remember their nose is six times better than a bloodhound’s, you’re not going to hide it from them. You need to make sure that they don’t learn it’s a food source. Once they’ve learned it’s a food source, you’re swimming upstream; you’re not going to win that battle.”
He said relocation is not an option for any bears that have become so addicted to garbage that they’re breaking into structures to access it.
“I can’t relocate that bear. I know people would like me to and I would love to, but that’s not how it works because once a bear’s learned that trick, he’s not going to unlearn it and we’ve had bears that we have relocated travel great distances to get back,” he said. “We live on an island, so there’s really nothing to stop them from coming back. The obvious one is to remove them off the island, but scientists have determined that Vancouver Island black bears are a separate subspecies, therefore we don’t want to be mixing DNA and they can’t go off the island. When you add to that the fact that Vancouver Island has one of the highest population densities of black bears on the planet, there’s not a lot of rooms at the inn, there’s not a lot of vacant space and big bears eat little bears, that’s the law of the jungle. I don’t want to take a little bear from town and drop it off in the bush just to have it eaten by another predator.”
He added some bears do get relocated in situations where they aren’t considered habituated or dangerous.
“If a bear’s in an apple tree next to an elementary school at high noon, clearly we have to do something, but it’s eating apples so the bear hasn’t done anything to warrant its destruction, those are the ones we relocate out of town,” he said.
Anybody who encounters a bear is urged not to scream or run away, but instead make themselves as big and intimidating as possible and back away slowly.
“Screaming is a high pitched squeal and you sound like a wounded animal, so screaming’s out,” Bates said. “If you run from a predator, they’ll assume you’re edible, they will chase you and you will not get away. A bear can catch a horse, so can cougars in a short sprint.”
He added that while maintaining eye contact with a cougar is imperative, a bear should never be stared in the eyes.
“That’s a challenge to them that ‘I’m tougher than you’ and they really don’t like it,” he said.
He noted black bear attacks on people are “extremely rare.”
“Don’t be fearful, be vigilant. Be aware of the fact they can be there and you just solved 90 per cent of the problem,” he said. “And for parents out there worried about their kids, whatever you do to protect your kids against two-legged predators works pretty good for four-legged ones, as horrible as that is to have to say.”