Common-sense approach to bears

The worrisome thing is that too many bears have learned how to rummage around dumpsters and people’s backyards in search of an easy meal.

Looks like spring is here.

Pussy willows are out everywhere and the buds are already showing up on a lot of the trees. This means bears are going to start showing up as well. One thing for sure is, they’ll be hungry after winter hibernation, and will be looking for whatever they can find to satisfy that hunger.

The worrisome thing is that too many bears have learned how to rummage around landfill sites, dumpsters and people’s backyards in search of an easy meal. This altering of bear behaviour, known as food conditioning, combined with a loss of fear of humans through repeated contact, more often than not, results in dangerous, if not disastrous situations.

The most effective way to prevent a bear-human contact situation is to stay away from bears. Another is to become ‘bear aware’ by learning about bears and their habits. Know that when you enter into certain areas, you are entering the bear’s territory, and that bears are territorial. They will protect their food source from other bears, as well as any other perceived threat to their food and/or well-being. This protectionism is even greater in spring when a sow feels the need to protect her young.

Inadvertently coming across a bear is one thing; being responsible for attracting bears is another. Too many bear-human contact situations arise from people unwittingly attracting bears into their yards and/or campsites with food.

Prevention starts in your own back yard. Clean up anything edible (to bears) such as garbage, bird seed, compost and fruit that has fallen from trees. Keep garbage in a secured container, garage or shed until pick-up day and return the containers to their secured site once they’ve been emptied. Pick ripe and fallen fruit daily. Use bird feeders only in winter months and keep the ground free of seeds and nuts. Clean your barbecue after each use and store it in a secured area. Store pet food and pet food dishes inside. Do not put meat products or uncooked food into your compost.

When camping, put away or remove any food stuffs that might attract bears. Store food away from your tent or trailer.  If you do end up confronting a bear on the trail, in camp or in your yard, remain calm and, by all means, keep away from the bear. Never approach or attempt to chase a bear, as bears can move quickly. Once the bear has left the area, check to ensure there are no attractants that will draw it back, and leave as soon as possible.

Recent statistics over a period of a year, show the province’s conservation office received more than 23,240 reports of bear sightings. Officers attended more than 2,827 incidents where bears had been acting aggressively or public safety was an issue. As a result, 675 black bears had to be destroyed, while another 175 were relocated.

By cutting down trees, clearing land and building homes in areas that were once natural bear habitat, we have encroached on their natural territory. It is ironic that human development is displacing bears while, at the same time, luring them back by leaving easy food lying around for them to feed on.

Bears can be unpredictable and tend to become more brazen when hungry – especially when first coming out of hibernation, or when they have become starved because natural food sources are limited or no longer available. While there is little food value in garbage, it is nevertheless food, and a hungry bear will do virtually anything to get at something to eat.

A little common sense and due diligence will go a long way in preventing and averting bear-human contacts and conflicts.