Conflicts between humans and bears have increased drastically in Northwest B.C.
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS) typically receives between 300 and 500 reports of human/wildlife conflicts per fiscal year (April to March) in its North Coast zone, which covers Terrace, Kitimat, Prince Rupert, the Nass Valley, and neighbouring coastal areas, said Tracy Walbauer, a sergeant with the B.C. COS.
This year there have been over 900 reports of conflicts, only six months into the fiscal year. Conflicts with other dangerous animals, such as wolves and cougars, remain at normal levels, Walbauer said, so that increase in reports is almost entirely caused by bears encroaching into human territory.
Two of the bears’ major food sources are absent this year, driving desparate, hungry bears toward towns. Walbauer said berry crops in the region didn’t ripen this year, likely due to the unusually rainy summer, and high river levels are washing away spawned salmon.
“One thing that we do know is that we’re dealing with a lot of adult bears, which is not normal,” Walbauer said. “We typically deal with sub-adults that had just left their mom and don’t really have a place of their own yet.”
“A lot of the bears that we’re dealing with are very hungry, they’re very thin, some of them have been almost to the point of emaciation.”
Conservation officers have euthanized over 100 bears in the region so far this year. In a normal year, there would have only been between 20 – 40 euthanizations by the end of September, Walbauer said.
It’s especially important this year for people in the region to manage bear attractants, Walbauer said.
He asked the public to ensure that fruit trees are picked, and any fruit beneath be moved. Garbage should be kept inside until pickup day. Commercial operations should endeavour to use dumpsters with metal lids, as bears easily break through plastic dumpster lids.
“The bears are extremely hungry and people need to be very vigilant,” he said.
There have been increased attacks on livestock, including chickens and at least one donkey, as well as pets.
Walbauer said electric fences and floodlights can help protect livestock — sometimes.
“We’ve seen [bears] go into beehives, breaking right through the electric fencing,” he said. ”So when they’re hungry, they’re going to do everything they can. They’re prepared to take that electric shock to get that reward.”
Walbauer said he hopes fish runs will increase later in autumn, providing the bears with a stronger natural food source and drawing them away from human centres.
Bear sightings or encounters can be reported by calling 1-877-952-7277.