Big boar black bear coming out of hibernation on Highway 16 between Kitwanga and Terrace on Sunday, April 17. (Thom Barker photo)

Big boar black bear coming out of hibernation on Highway 16 between Kitwanga and Terrace on Sunday, April 17. (Thom Barker photo)

Be bear aware and keep food attractants stored away in lock tight containers

Conservation Officer Service issues early spring bear warnings in Smithers

“Be bear aware,” was the warning issued by the Conservation Officer Service (COS) to Bulkley Valley residents on April 14.

Residents of Smithers and the surrounding areas are likely to see increased bear activity in the coming weeks, with hibernation ending and bears foraging for a fast meal, Conservation Officer Ryan Caldwell, said.

“The early education message is garbage, compost and bird feeders need to be put away,” he said.

Bears are hungry, and if they were visiting a residential community last fall, they will likely be back expecting to find food, such as household garbage in unsecured containers.

“So we want to remind the public that with bears waking up, we want to secure our attractants,” Caldwell said. “That means garbage, recycling, bird feeders, and anything else that can be considered an attractant. We want them stored away in an area not accessible to wildlife.”

The COS recognizes that not everyone has a shed in which to store garbage and suggests joining forces with neighbours to make trips to the local landfill.

“At the very least, let’s strap our lids down on our garbage cans so the bears have a harder time accessing that,” Caldwell said.

“And, if possible, we’re asking people to wait taking their garbage or their stuff out until the end of the week, or put it out on pickup day.”

The more people on board with securing attractants, the better off the bears will be, as they will be less likely to become acclimated to human communities and food.

“Early attractant management and education are keys to keeping bears at bay, reducing property damage, improving public safety, reducing the overall number of conflicts and ultimately having fewer bears destroyed due to conflict, as people are the ones who teach bears bad behaviours,” Caldwell said.

Providing information by calling the RAPP (Report All Poachers and Polluters) line at 1-877-957-7277, if a problem bear is identified, is valuable as it allows the COS to track where bears are and where they may be headed.

“If people call, it gives us an opportunity to intervene in the early stages. We can help manage the attractant with the person, and provide advice and how they can store items away,” the CO said.

“We can’t manage the bear. We manage the people, and the more people we manage early on, the more we can reduce these conflicts … and if the bear needs to be removed from the population because of garbage, then we have a better idea of where to look and how to manage the people in that specific area.”

Caldwell reminds the public it is not just garbage that attracts bears. It is also common items people might not think of such as pet food, small animals such as chickens and rabbits, barbecues that are left uncleaned and bee hives.

“Electric fencing is very effective for securing attractants that need to remain outside,” Caldwell said.

If a problem is identified, contacting the RAPP number will get a complainant through to a call centre and, based on the priority, in can contact with the COS immediately 24/7.

“Contacting the number will get you in touch with people right away,” Caldwell said. “And from there we can come out and see if the conflict is manageable and how best to address the situation.

“It is going to get very busy in the next few weeks, and we just want the public to be keenly aware of bear safety and to be bear aware as individuals and a community.”