They’re coming for the fruit, but staying for the garbage and that’s getting them killed.
A surprisingly abundant fall season fruit yield has West Coast black bears following their noses into communities where they are becoming addicted to easily accessible garbage left unsecured by residents and visitors.
Bear activity is supposed to slow down significantly this time of year, but WildSafeBC Pacific Rim coordinator Bob Hansen told the Westerly News sightings “increased dramatically” in both September and October compared to past years.
“It seems that the common factor is the exceptional production of fruit trees this year and we’re getting reports right across the region. Every community that has fruit trees has bears actively foraging,” he said.
“With the fruit drawing and holding the bears in the community, the bears are also following their noses and finding garbage that’s unsecured and other attractants. That’s been where things have really gone sideways…Initially, the reports were fruit, fruit, fruit, but then we started getting reports that they were into garbage, they’re finding those composts that have meat scraps in them, they’re checking out chickens; just spending a lot of time in the communities.”
He said six habituated bears have been killed so far this year
“Unfortunately, the toll on bears is climbing and may continue here for a while as these bears become food conditioned to garbage and other things,” he said.
“Those are bears that have become so focused on finding garbage and other things that, as their behaviour becomes more focused on that, the risk to the public increases and then it comes down to the Conservation Officer Service to make that choice. They have to balance trying to conserve wildlife with public safety…It’s always an incredibly difficult decision and never taken lightly.”
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In an effort to keep wildlife wild and prevent more bears from being killed, WildSafeBC is collaborating with the Tofino Community Food Initiative to map out the region’s fruit trees and remove their bounties before bears find them.
“There’s a lot more fruit trees than I was certainly aware of and the bears have been very effective at finding those fruit trees…We were caught by surprise with what happened this year, but we’ve been talking to a number of potential partners and looking at funding sources with the goal to have the ability to help community members out with their fruit harvesting,” Hansen said adding apples are the primary culprit, but plums are playing a role as well.
“Some of these apple trees are really large and have been around for a long, long, time and the bears can climb up and basically just gorge.”
He said West Coasters are doing significantly better with securing theirgarbage and that his weekly patrols in Tofino and Ucluelet have yielded very few bins being left out.
He added he’s also been impressed by the number of commercial garbage containers that are now latched and secured.
He attributed that improvement to the ongoing educational efforts being made by WildsafeBC, Raincoast Education Society, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, Thornton Creek Hatchery and others.
“”All of these efforts in the communities are having a positive effect,” he said. “There’s quite a collective of organizations and education efforts going on in all our communities and it is having a positive impact, it’s just that we’ve got a ways to go.”
He urges all residents to report wildlife sightings to the Conservation Officer service at 1-877-952-7277 and said those reports are mapped out and can be viewed at wildsafebc.com.
“It’s a way to keep our communities informed on activity, it gives the conservation officers a picture of what’s going on in each community and it also helps me as well in terms of where I can focus my education efforts. So, it’s important to make those reports,” he said.