A bustling summer season has turned deadly for black bears on the West Coast as irresponsible attractant management has led to four being killed over the past 30 days.
Unnatural food-conditioning led to two bears being killed in Tofino in July followed by another two killed in Ucluelet since July 29 and WildSafeBC Pacific Rim coordinator Bob Hansen fears several others are heading towards the same fate.
“Unfortunately, we’re really in the lose-lose part of the picture here,” Hansen told the Westerly News. “There’s still at least two bears in Ucluelet and two bears in Tofino that have all discovered that they can fairly easily access a whole host of unnatural foods that are highly attractive to them.”
He said bears are eating from unsecured commercial garbage bins and that secured bins are becoming overloaded, leading to visitors and residents leaving garbage around full bins. He added bears have also accessed outdoor freezers in both Tofino and Ucluelet as well as poorly managed composts and chicken coops not equipped with electric fencing.
“It’s really the whole gamut and these bears, because they’re really intelligent and they’re using that incredible sense of smell, they’re systematically searching out opportunities and finding them,” he said. “Every time they get another reward like that in terms of a good meal, it just reinforces that behaviour.”
Hansen was going door-to-door handing out informational resources in Ucluelet on Sunday in an effort to educate the community and reverse the troubling trend of bears becoming habituated and conditioned to unnatural food sources.
“The most straightforward approach right in this moment is for people to really tighten things up in their own yard and at their place of work,” he said.
He added business owners must ensure their staff are keeping garbage bins secured, noting that unsecured commercial bins have been a source of frustration for bear aware residents.
“Maybe they’re not able to keep on top of keeping it secure all the time, there’s challenges because they’re short-staffed and may have a high staff turnover,” he said. “There’s businesses that are maybe in a spot where residents nearby are walking their garbage down and putting it in a business’ bin or visitors are doing exactly the same.”
He said he hopes business owners, district bylaw staff and commercial bin providers can kick off some in depth discussions during the offseason to come up with strategies to mitigate the issue.
“This is a chronic issue and right now, at the height of the season, it’s also a critical issue,” he said. “We’ve got super high visitation, we’ve got very high bear activity and everyone’s at their maximum busyness, so it’s pretty hard to sit down and grapple with these issues at this point in the season, but hopefully we can try and have some detailed discussions and actually come up with some ideas on how to move forward in a positive way.”
He said residents with composts must be especially diligent and cautious this time of year and refrain from putting any meat, fish scraps or bones in their composts.
“At this point in time, I wouldn’t even put eggshells in there, just vegetable and fruit matter and make sure that it’s really dug deep into the compost pile and then capped with a layer of browns, wood chips are excellent or shredded newspaper. That will ensure that compost is really working efficiently and a compost that’s working well has minimal attraction to a bear,” he said. “But, what I’m seeing is composts where the fruit and the vegetables and maybe other things are just dumped inside on top of the pile and, if it’s on top of the pile, it’s just like having an open garbage can. If it’s not turned into that composting soil where the worms can get at it, that’s going to smell and that’s going to bring a bear in.”
He added all local chicken coops should have electric fencing and said WildSafeBC’s provincial coordinator will be visiting both Tofino and Ucluelet this week offering free electric fencing workshops.
The Ucluelet workshop will be held on Aug. 11 from 6-7 p.m. at the Community Centre followed by a workshop in Tofino on Aug. 12, from 6-7 p.m. at the Wickaninnish School Community Garden.
He noted funding is available to help residents cover the costs of electric fencing.
Three bears were killed due to food-conditioning on the West Coast last year, though the year before saw 13 killed due to a high fruit crop and low salmon returns.
Hansen hopes the recent string of black bear deaths will wake residents up to the fact that their actions have consequences
“It makes it very real for people, particularly if they’ve come to see a bear around and then learn shortly after that it’s no longer alive,” he said. “There’s very real, serious consequences both for bears and the community.”