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Bear shot in Tofino after becoming addicted to local restaurant waste

WildSafeBC urges residents and businesses in Tofino and Ucluelet to responsibly secure attractants
Brad Dusseault snapped this shot of a black bear feasting inside an unsecured garbage bin outside a local restaurant in Tofino. The bear was shot and killed on Oct. 1. (Brad Dusseault photo)

Irresponsible waste management has claimed another local black bear’s life on the West Coast.

A bear was killed in Tofino on Saturday, Oct. 1 after frequenting unsecured attractants at local restaurants. It was the eighth food-conditioned bear killed in the region this year. Two more have been killed in highway traffic collisions.

Local WildSafeBC coordinator Bob Hansen said he had spoken with restaurants prior to the shooting, warning them about the potential outcome of unsecured attractants.

“For a lot of people, what transpired on Saturday seems to be a theoretical situation. Then, when it does play out, it’s very traumatic. It’s very upsetting for the community and staff find themselves in an unsafe situation going out to a bin that has a lid popped open and a bear inside of it,” he said.

“Then it becomes all too real, but at that point in time, the outcome is very likely to be what happened. So you quickly go from a theoretical to being right in the midst of a very intense situation that has drastic outcomes. So, the question is how do we convince people just to fulfil that responsibility and that the responsibility lies with them?”

Tofino resident Brad Dusseault lives next to the restaurant where the bear was killed and said the animal had been frequenting a dumpster that was routinely being left unsecured.

“The large beautiful bear was literally inside the dumpster eating,” he said, adding his deck overlooks the dumpster and he and his two grandkids had a front row view of its last meal that morning.

He said he spoke with bylaw officers at the scene who advised him to take his grandkids away as the bear was going to be shot.

“Unfortunately the bear was shot right behind my house in the neighbour’s front yard. The young woman came home not knowing what was going on and there was a dead bear that had been dragged out of her front yard onto her driveway waiting to be picked up,” he said.

He said he has spoken with his local council and acknowledged work is being done by both the bylaw department and WildSafeBC to cut down on unsecured attractants, but he hopes to see those efforts boosted.

“I want to expedite it and make it a bigger issue and make it so that these attractants are minimized,” he said. “Basically we’re baiting bears to come into the village and then we’re shooting them. It’s got to stop…I’m not coming from a place of malice or being judgmental. I’m just trying to make our community a better, safer place for locals, tourists and certainly for the wildlife.”

He added it was a traumatic experience for his grandkids, ages 8 and 11.

“We did a little candle vigil the next night because they were really upset about it and shaken,” he said.

Hansen said bears are currently in their hyperfatia stage to fatten up for winter’s hibernation, feeding up to 17 hours and eating up to 20,000 calories a day to get prepared.

“Biologically they’re really driven. What some have discovered to their peril is that commercial bins are all over the communities and contain a huge amount of calories,” he said. “This bear wasn’t just at this one establishment. It had learned, and they do learn quickly, to recognize those large boxes of food.”

Weekly garbage collection in Tofino and Ucluelet is done by Ozzard Environmental and Hansen said Ozzard provides its clients with bear proof bins, but those bins only work if people take the time to properly secure them.

“If the bar is up but there’s no lock or carabiner, the bear just flips it down and pops up the lid and then climbs in,” he said. “Everything has been provided. It’s a simple action that takes a few seconds every time the garbage is taken out.”

Hansen’s co-coordinator at WildSafeBC Marianne Paquette said she conducted a two-hour survey on the afternoon after the bear was killed and found 17 instances of unsecured attractants in downtown Tofino.

“We thought it was a good opportunity with this bear going around town and showing us the vulnerability, to see how we can pinpoint those vulnerabilities ourselves without it being a bear showing us where those attractants are unsecured,” Paquette told the Westerly.

“I tried to see what would be attractive to a bear, what they would be interested in and what they would be able to access…The commercial bins are bear resistant, but with that human component a lot of them were open.”

She added she also discovered several grease bins that were not thoroughly cleaned.

“That just showed all the vulnerabilities that were accessible for a bear in a pretty short amount of time. It shows we need a huge effort,” she said. “For co-existence to be successful in our communities, we really need everybody’s help.”

She added that it was disappointing to see so much unsecured garbage in town and believes there is a misconception about how important proper attractant management is.

“I think some people might think that those big metal bins are actually secured from bears without even having the bar up or the latch on the side,” she said. “If you don’t know much about bears and how clever and food motivated they are, you might not know that they are able to get into it.”

She added WildSafeBC has resources to help businesses identify attractants and puts steps in place to minimize them through its WildSafeBC Business Pledge, which several local businesses are currently working towards and three have achieved so far.

“We really encourage businesses to reach out to us if they have any questions about securing their attractants or if they want to be part of the WildSafeBC Business Pledge. We would love to work with them,” she said.

Kate Metzger of Ozzard Environmental told the Westerly that businesses routinely failing to lock their bins properly might be kicked off the service.

“We are playing our role in providing good quality bins and we just ask our customers to do their part by ensuring that they are closed properly and locked properly…There’s a lot of waste on the Coast and it’s a big attraction. There’s a lot of calories in those bins,” she said.

“If customers aren’t cooperating by using the provided locks and chains and we keep getting reports, we can simply just remove the service from them…It wouldn’t be the first step to take. We want to assist with waste removal, that’s our job. We don’t want to remove those services from people, but we also need to make sure that waste removal is done in a responsible way.”

She added Ozzard is looking into purchasing self-latching bins for businesses in high tourist areas where visitors often leave garbage on top of or beside latched bins.

“The language around locking your bins and securing your garbage, to us locals we are very familiar, but there are a lot of tourists that come into our towns, not just in the summer season anymore, and they’re not aware.”

Hansen noted WildSafeBC has been working with Tofino’s district office on a new Wildlife Attractant Management Bylaw that’s received third reading from the town’s council and is now being reviewed by the province for final approval.

“It’s not a case of no one’s doing anything. The reality is the opposite,” he said, adding WildSafeBC is working with both towns’ chambers of commerce as well as Ozzard and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. “There’s a lot of pieces to it, but a lot of people working on all the pieces.”

He added the work being done to bring awareness to attractant management is vital because developing an addiction to accessible garbage is a death sentence for bears.

“Unfortunately, food conditioning seems to be pretty much a one-way trip,” he said. “They don’t become un-food-conditioned. They have a lot of intelligence, they are driven by that calorie reward and they just tend to get better and better and more efficient at finding and taking advantage of those calories. Once they’ve started down that road the risk to them just keeps growing.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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