Be Bear Aware

Bears are hungriest in the fall—as hungry as they’ll be all year—save for their state of mind upon awakening in the spring. As such, it’s incredibly important to manage attractants which might cause bears to come into contact with humans for the sake of a calorie fix.

It should be common knowledge, if not common sense, to realize that if bears are allowed or encouraged to hang around areas of human habitat that this will lead to all manner of conflicts. In British Columbia, this more often than not means that bears will be euthanized by conservation officers. In the small city of Penticton in which I reside, five bears were recently destroyed due to bear attractant inaction.

During October and November, BC bears will be seeking to ingest up to twenty thousand calories every 24 hours, while foraging as much as 20 hours a day in order to put on enough weight to survive through the winter torpor, when no natural foods are available to them.

Most of us have been taught to believe that bears are hibernators, but in fact, they actually enter a state more accurately described as torpor. During this deep-sleep state, heart and breathing rates decrease, body temperatures reduce and bears do not eat or release bodily waste. Bears can sleep more than 100 days without eating, drinking or passing waste.

They are able to convert their liquid waste into protein through a urea recycling process. The urea produced by their fat metabolism is broken down and the nitrogen is reused by the bear to rebuild protein.

Given the fact that there are approximately one hundred thousand black and ten thousand grizzly bears in BC, it’s no surprise that human-bear interactions are common, and even more so in the fall. Bears are both intelligent and determined, and human settlements, with their attendant scents in the wind, draw bears from significant distances in search of food.

Each year in BC, we see upwards of one thousand bears destroyed by conservation officers due to human-bear conflicts. The BC Conservation Service keeps a running tab on bear-killings by conservation officers, and others, on the Ministry’s Human-Predator Conflicts Monthly Update website.

(Photo: Lia McKinnon)

It’s far from unreasonable to ask people to secure bear attractants, yet many don’t seem to get the message, or are too lazy to do the right thing. This inaction will directly lead to the deaths of countless bears each and every year.

Some of the easiest things the public can do to minimize human-bear interactions include:

  1. Refrain from putting garbage out until the morning of garbage collection, as opposed to the night before
  2. Pick fruit from trees in your yard, as well as from the ground
  3. Do not leave pet foods in the dish outside
  4. Mount birdfeeders on sturdy, smooth metal poles that cannot be climbed or knocked over, and occasionally check to see if masses of dropped seeds are apparent beneath pole mounted bird feeders
  5. Do not leave BBQs/grills outdoors that have not been [thoroughly] cleaned

Bears can smell all of the aforementioned attractants from surprising distances, as they sport a nasal mucosa area a hundred times larger than that of humans.

Some people think it’s okay if bears eat tree fruits in their yards, perhaps because they enjoy seeing wildlife in close proximity, from the security of their homes. However, they lose sight of the fact that these same bears will also roam other neighborhood yards when they are in the area, and this isn’t the kind of wildlife interactions that others look forward to.

The all-too-often end result is that neighbors call the conservation service, which attend to and euthanize the bears.


“A fed bear is a dead bear”

Bears that have located a source of quality calories aren’t easily dissuaded from returning to what they see as a secure source of food, no matter how many times a conservation officer might haze or live-trap and relocate them (a rare occurrence). These animals can easily travel significant distancesthe longest documented range of a male black bear is nearly 200 km.

Between April and October 2019, four hundred and seventy black bears were destroyed by the BC Conservation service, with only six trapping and relocations over that same periodwith the vast majority of these deaths being directly attributed to so-called “problem bears” (it’s actually “problem humans”).


How can you help?

The steps outlined above will go a long way toward saving the lives of BC bears. We cannot depend on an over-stretched conservation service to solve this issue. Instead, we need to educate ourselves, our friends and families.

I encourage readers to share this article far and wide. If even one bear can be saved by each of us through education, it’s more than worth our time to educate our peers.

For more information, please visit WildSafe BC’s Bear-Smart program website.

Eight BC communities have successfully attained official Bear Smart status: Kamloops, Squamish, Lions Bay, Whistler, Port Alberni, Naramata, New Denver and Coquitlam.

I’m set to work on seeing Penticton added to this list going forward; would you like to join me in this quest?

Wherever you are reading this, please consider fostering a movement that will see your community added to this project.

A huge thank you to local Stewardship Biologist Lia McKinnon for the photo that accompanies this article!

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