As home maintenance projects spike during this period of COVID-19 self isolation, the province hopes homeowners will also conduct a careful survey of their property and remove all bear attractants as the hungry animals come out of hibernation in search of food.
With waste and recycling services impacted in some B.C. communities due to the pandemic, BC Conservation says vigilance is more important than ever to keep bears at bay.
“Residents could turn this unusual time into something positive for wildlife by taking extra time to secure attractants and educate themselves about Bear Smart practices,” Mike Badry, provincial wildlife conflict manager with BC Conservation Officer Service stated in a release April 17.
“If bears do not have access to non-natural food sources, such as garbage, fruit and bird seed within communities, they have no reason to hang around. This results in increased safety for both people and bears.”
CO Mike Geuze from BC Conservation’s Terrace office, which takes calls from a large area that includes Kitimat and Prince Rupert, said the office has not received an increase in calls yet this year despite the quieter streets as people self-isolate in their homes. Nonetheless he repeated the province’s call for vigilance.
“We’ve only received a couple calls for sightings on the outskirts of Terrace and Kitimat, but it’s definitely starting up. Right now we have the same message we do every year —clean up your garbage and remove attractants.”
Bears typically hibernate from late fall to early spring, and often emerge from their dens looking for food to replace the fat sources they lost over the winter months.
Their keen sense of smell draws them to garbage cans, bird feeders, vehicles — anything that can ring their dinner bell. Geuze advises the public to keep garbage in a secure, bear-proof containers and inside a garage or shed. It’s also advised not put garbage containers on the curb until the morning of collection.
Taking down bird feeders, ensuring grease and fat left on barbecues is cleaned after use, managing compost and keeping pet food inside can also safeguard against curious bears.
Last year across the province, the Conservation Officer Service received more than 20,000 calls related to conflicts with the animals Many of the calls pertained to unsecured attractants.
BC Conservation is now promoting it’s voluntary Bear Smart Community Program, highlighting its success in eight communities throughout the province — Kamloops, Squamish, Lions Bay, Whistler, Port Alberni, Naramata, New Denver and Coquitlam — where sightings and conflicts with bears have dramatically declined.
In Naramata, a small village of 2,400 east of Okanagan Lake surrounded by fruit farms and livestock acreages, up to eight bears were destroyed every year prior to the community’s buy-in of the program in 2012. Since then, bear complaints went down from about 100 per year to 12.
The program, designed by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in partnership with the B.C. Conservation Foundation and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, is based on six criteria that communities must achieve in order to be recognized as “bear smart.”
In Naramata it included date changes and time restrictions on curb-side garbage collection, bear-proof containers in problem areas and a public education campaign in the schools.
“People have learned to modify their behaviour and have experienced the difference,” Zoe Kirt, a public project works coordinator for the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen stated in the release. “In under three years, the community has become almost completely self policing. It takes political will, it takes community will, but when those two come together, you can really make big strides forward.”