As May winds down, and the weather warms up, black bear sightings become more and more frequent.
June marks the beginning of their mating season, and the Sunshine Coast Bear Alliance is being proactive in reminding residents close to bears – or those heading out on trails – to respect the wildlife.
Diane Henley is a volunteer with the Alliance. “The main number one reason for black bears being killed by the conservation service is when bears are deemed a safety issue,” she told My Comox Valley Now.
“One of their mandates is to provide public safety, so when our bears get into non-natural food sources like garbage and other attractants, they start spending more time in our neighbourhoods and get deemed a safety risk.”
Henley stated that 588 black bears were killed in BC last year, with 77 of those bears being cubs. She says ‘bear-human conflict’ is not quite the proper term, as bears have no conflict with humans.
“Bears are seeking out food, they’re trying to raise families, and they’re highly intelligent animals and innately quite content,” she said.
“I think they’re probably more tolerant of us than we are with them, so we’re hoping we can change [perspectives], mentor, educate, create more awareness about what we as a community have to do, and provide a safe coexistence.”
For residents, this can be as simple as keeping trash bins secure and finding alternatives to tasty bird feeders.
Your bird feeders bring all the birds to the yard, but they also attract bears.
“Bird feeders are the number one attractant for bears,” said Henley. “They are such a high-calorie reward for them. It’s easy for them to gain a lot of calories that way, so we really encourage people to find other ways to feed their birds during the summer and bear season. [From] March to November, there are lots of natural foods for birds.”
Other tips focus on locking down things that smell good to bears. Things like keeping car doors locked as bears can easily smell old food wrappers left inside or cleaning charred food off your barbecue. Also, pick up all the fruit that falls from trees. Henley also recommends not having outdoor fridges, and keeping your windows and doors locked.
For those out on the trail, if you happen upon a black bear, she recommends that you announce your presence by talking or making sounds with nearby sticks.
You want to be firm, but not aggressive.
“There’s a little bit of an adage, ‘wind in your eyes, avoid a surprise,’” said Henley.
“You may see the bear stand up, and unfortunately, people sometimes think this means that the bear is going to charge. What the bear’s actually doing is trying to get a better sense of you, get a better smell, a little better look. So if the bear has seen you, just calmly put your arms out to the side and say; ‘Hey bear, I’m leaving.’”
“They really are quite perceptible to tone of voice. Just remain calm and back away, don’t turn around, just back away and go the way you came.”
In reality, black bear encounters are quite often quite uneventful. Simply stay calm, back up slowly, and do not make direct eye contact. The bear might see eye contact as a challenge.
And most importantly, give them space. Make sure you are not blocking access to the bear’s cubs or food source.
When we head out into the wilderness for that long-awaited summer hike, we are entering their home, their sanctuary. It seems right for us to respect their space as we have taken up so much space everywhere else.