Where there are deer, cougars are sure to follow.
And where there is garbage, fruit and bird feeders, bears will come calling for a free, take-out lunch.
Incidents of interaction in urban areas between humans, cougars and bears are on the rise this fall, says Crystal McMillan, the executive director of Bear Smart B.C. Consulting, a company that works with municipalities on these issues.
“We’ve had a lot more calls and a lot more incidents with cougars,” said McMillan.
“At this time of year, we start seeing bears coming into communities for food sources, but what’s alarming is we are seeing an increase in cougar attractants at the community level.”
It seems deer have been especially prolific in the last year. Anyone who lives in Parksville Qualicum Beach who travels the Island Highway or even Temple Street, has seen a number of deer families roaming about every day.
“Now we have deer everywhere,” said McMillan.
Humans have contributed to the deer population explosion, which has meant many more cougars roaming the urban streets, by feeding deer, said McMillan. And while most people relate garbage to bears, available household trash also attracts raccoons and domestic pets, which cougars find appealing too.
“Because we are feeding deer at the community level, they are staying,” she said.
The problem with bears seeking garbage in urban areas is not a new one, which seems to frustrate McMillan a bit.
“It seems to take years for people to go, ah-ha, OK,” she said. “If humans provide non-natural food sources, then we have bears. Bears are very smart and they will shrink their home range (if easy-to-get food is available).”
Moves by municipalities like Parksville and Qualicum Beach to allow residents to raise chickens or bees in their backyards does not help matters, unless you are a cougar or a bear, said McMillan.
“Backyard chickens and bees are big bear attractants,” she said. “Chickens are huge cougar attractants.”
Some Vancouver Island communities have ordered a cull of the deer in urban areas. McMillan said she isn’t sure that’s the answer.
“We can go out there and kill these animals but is that really solving the problem?”
McMillan said her company works with municipalities “to reduce conflict with bears and other wildlife in communities.”
She has a simple message:
“Please don’t feed deer and do not feed bears in any shape or form.”
If you see a cougar or bear in an urban environment, call 1-877-952-7277.