While human-bear conflicts declined in 2021 in Quesnel compared to previous years, they’re still near all-time highs.
Blake Knibbs, a wildlife safety response officer for BC Conservation, said at the Quesnel city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, he’s seeing similar numbers across all of the Cariboo.
“The issue with conflict wildlife, is once (the animal) learns a behaviour, they never unlearn it,” Knibbs said.
“Once a bear gets into garbage, you can relocate it 350 kms away, and it can be back in 3 1/2 weeks. Unfortunately, when bears do get into garbage, we have to euthanize them the majority of the time.”
Knibbs said 22 bears were euthanized in Quesnel, and only a few were relocated.
Bear sightings province-wide set a new record, with nearly 20,000 reported sightings between January and November.
“A lot of that is due to mismanaged attractants,” Knibbs said.
“While the total number of calls is reduced, we did have a lot more reduction efforts put in this year.”
In addition to Knibbs, Ted Traer worked as the WildSafe BC co-ordinator in Quesnel, going door to door, and marking any misplaced garbage cans which could attract bears.
There were more than 350 reports of bears in Quesnel in 2021, down slightly from 436 in 2020.
“The primary call that we received was bears getting into garbage,” Knibbs said.
“There have been many instances of people having very close conflicts with bears in Quesnel this year, and that’s increased from last year.”
Knibbs noted Quesnel’s abundance of fruit trees, easily accessible household garbage and barbeques and fringe habitats around the area mean more bears have been attracted to the area. Bears normally transit down the Fraser River, but Knibbs hopes better management can keep them out of town.
Knibbs said in the presentation he hopes Quesnel can become certified as “bear-smart,” citing Golden, B.C. as an example to follow. Golden council approved changing to locking bins in 2016, and have since seen bear calls go down.
He hopes Quesnel council will approve a test trial of locking bins in West Quesnel, in the Abbot Heights area, which is one of the highest conflict areas in Quesnel. A bear licked the hand of a woman in that area late into 2021.
Knibbs suggested a $30 locking mechanism, which will be constructed at Babcon Industries in Quesnel.