Deplorable garbage habits killing bears

A large, healthy black bear was put down in Qualicum Beach last week, an unfortunate event that may have been prevented if residents were more diligent with their food attractants, said Nanaimo field conservation officer Steve Ackles.

Putting garbage and compost out any earlier than the morning of pick up can mean fatal consequences for local black bears. Lissa Alexander Photo

A large, healthy black bear was put down in Qualicum Beach last week, an unfortunate event that may have been prevented if residents were more diligent with their food attractants, said Nanaimo field conservation officer Steve Ackles.

“Really, [it was] not the bears’ fault,” he said. “But the attractant management in Qualicum and all throughout District 69 … there are some areas where it’s deplorable.”

Ackles said the bear had been generating many reports over the past few months throughout the East Hoylake, Mill Rd. and First Avenue areas. A report came in that the bear had attempted to break into a house before Halloween. At that time Ackles said he couldn’t get a safe shot so he used non-lethal methods to chase the bear into the green space. This was probably the same bear, he said.

A culvert trap was set up to catch the bear — said to be over 500 pounds — a few weeks ago, but he was reported to be found sleeping in a vacant lot near the trap last Monday. Once Ackles and his partner chased the bear up a tree, they made the difficult decision to kill the bear.

“People have got to realize that this time of year it would be inhumane to relocate a bear, with all the snow and everything.”

Ackles said relocating the bear to Strathacona Park was also not an option as that site is probably at its capacity with wild bears.

“There is no Paradise Valley where we can do this,” he said. “And bears do eat other bears.”

The “magic bullet,” he said, is that people need to do the right thing and put their garbage out the morning of pick up, rather than a couple days before.

Executive director of Bear Smart BC Society, Crystal McMillan, said since April of last year there have been 526 reports about black bears in Qualicum Beach. Although one bear could generate numerous calls, the numbers still indicate a problem, she said.

“What that does say is that we do have a problem in this community with regard to waste management and that’s what these numbers show us,” she said.

A total of eight bears have been destroyed in Qualicum Beach since May of 2010, and McMillan believes by working with the municipality and the public, Bear Smart can help reduce the number of human-bear conflicts.

McMillan has been doing work for Bear Smart BC for about six years and recently wrote a thesis for her masters degree on the Bear Smart program. After living in Ucluelet for 26 years, she has recently made the move to Qualicum Beach, but continues to work with other areas of the Island to try and reduce conflicts with bears.

She said it’s key that residents wait to put their garbage and compost out until the morning of pick-up, and in the meantime store it in a bear-resistant facility.

“Garbage is the number one killer of black bears in the province of B.C. and many other provinces across Canada,” she said, adding bungee cords and rocks on top of containers won’t keep the bears out. Bird feeders and barbecues are also big bear attractants, she stressed.

Ackles said it only takes one or two people on any given block leaving their garbage out to make the bears become conditioned to the food source and habituated. With public safety being the number one priority, habituated bears are a tough part of a conservation officer’s job, Ackles said.

“Once we see these bear’s behavior start to escalate we have to intervene,” he said. “Contrary to some people’s belief, that is the worst part of our job.”

Anyone wishing to volunteer for the Bear Smart community program in Qualicum Beach contact Crystal McMillan at bearsmartbc@telus.net or call 250-951-9453. For more on the Bearsmart BC Society visit www.bearsmart.com.

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