By Norman Galimski
Bear season is in full swing for the Omineca region which includes Vanderhoof and area.
As a late spring slowly turns into summer, some parts of the bear’s natural diet has not yet sprouted, leading them into urban landscapes in search of food.
Jonathan Schultz, conservation officer for the north Omineca zone told the Express that if there is food available, bears will come.
However, the public has a responsibility to mitigate factors that attract these animals to our homes, the conservation officer said.
“Bears are very one-track minded … especially in the springtime. There’s not a lot of berries growing or anything like that yet,” Schultz explained.
“Garbage will bring bears in. And when bears do access garbage, they will come back again and again. It will become a learned behaviour for them. That’s when bears really become dangerous because they start to rely on humans.”
It is very important to secure garbage properly, because if a bear cannot access a food source easily it will lose interest, move on and will unlikely return a second time, Schultz said.
An effective method is to secure trash bins with a ratchet strap as well as keep waste sheltered in a garage or shed until disposal.
“The onus is on people to make sure that attractants are secure. And if they’re not, it is a violation under the law. It is a finable offence. And we want to make sure that people understand that they do have a role to play in keeping everybody safe and keeping the bears away from town,” Schultz said.
If someone is found to have irresponsibly secured an attractant, officers can take action in the form of education, a formal warning, an order in which the offender must amend the issue or a fine starting at $230.
Though most residents are familiar with the effects garbage can have to attract bears, there are other less-obvious factors that play a large role in attracting these big furry neighbours into communities.
Bird feeders are particularly good at attracting bears — who have a sense of smell ten times better than that of a dog, Schultz said.
“Bird seed contains one of the highest amounts of protein, per gram, than any other food. As much as it seems small and harmless, bird feeders can be a huge attractant,” he said.
As the fruit on backyard apple trees ripen, later in the summer, it too is an especially persuasive smell for bears — as can other fruits and vegetables grown in gardens.
“We all want to have apples and that’s understandable. We just really want people to pick them once they are ripe and then we don’t have this problem,” Schultz said.
Though there are many things that attract bears into communities, there are few that deter them. They are omnivorous creatures and will eat almost anything they can get their paws on.
For those with chickens or livestock, as well as larger gardens, an electric fence is an effective strategy to dissuade bears from encroaching on the human environment.
“Electric fencing is a proven system to keep bears out of those areas.,” Schultz said. “A little bit goes a long way.”
Electric fencing is not only effective, but is also safe for bears.
Investigations and video footage from conservation officers show that bears quickly learn the barricade will hurt them and will then not interact with it again. Similar to a cow, a bear won’t get injured from the received jolt, Schultz said.
As for when humans go into bear territory, outdoor enthusiasts should always carry bear spray.
“It’s an industry standard at this point for anybody that works outside and it really should be a recreational standard as well,” Schultz said.
Other than that, he said the most effective way to prevent an unwanted, and potentially dangerous encounter with a bear, is to be in a group and make yourselves known. Having even just two people makes you larger and more intimidating.
Making yourself known is important because you never want to surprise a bear. If you do encounter a bear, you want to back away slowly. Never turn your back and run away from a bear, Schultz explained.
“Bear attacks are extremely rare in B.C. We have a lot of interaction between humans and black bears, but very few actual contacts with humans.”
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