British Columbia cyclist Kevin Milner was rounding a downhill corner on a North Vancouver trail last Monday evening when he slammed into another road user crossing in front of him.
The collision — which sent Milner flying and left him with a broken scapula, cardiac contusion and other injuries — didn’t involve a car or another cyclist. Milner’s bike had T-boned a black bear.
“The last thing I saw of the bear before the accident was just him running. I can see his muscles as he was charging across the road, and I just hit him right behind the shoulder blade and then I kind of launched myself over top of him,” said Milner, whose expects it will take six weeks to recover.
Milner’s accident on the Seymour Demonstration Forest trail was unusual, but authorities are warning that with spring in full swing, bears across B.C. are emerging from their dens and encounters with humans are on the rise.
Shelley Fiorito, a community coordinator with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen in B.C.’s southern Interior, said her phone is already buzzing with people sharing their interactions with bears.
“We’ve had a couple of really warm spells in the last couple of weeks, so everything is getting nice and green in the valley bottom,” Fiorito said.
“The wildlife is coming down, especially the bears when they come out of the denning, they are looking for forage and sources of water.”
Fiorito said disasters such as wildfires and flooding can also affect how wildlife moves in the region, leading to more potential human encounters with bears.
The district said bear-human interactions reached new highs there in 2022.
BC Conservation Officer Service statistics meanwhile show 479 black bears were killed by its officers over the past year ending in April.
Fiorito said a spike in bear sightings could be related to the increase in people working from home in the wake of the pandemic, adding to food waste in garbage that could be attracting the animals.
“Garbage is a big thing, but bird feeders, particularly bird seed is a really high-calorie meal for bears that are looking to replenish their body fat,” she said.
Bears can smell five times better than dogs, the district said in a news release. Its advice to avoid drawing bears into a neighourhood includes freezing smelly food waste, removing bird feeders and storing all garbage in a secure area.
Ellie Lamb, director of community outreach for the Get Bear Smart Society, said bears are active in May, as mother bears show their cubs around fishing spots and foraging grounds.
“That could be anywhere in her home range where she lives and she teaches these young bears how to survive, who to be careful of,” said Lamb.
Extra caution is needed around mother bears, said Lamb.
She said hikers who encounter bears on a forest trail should give them space by moving off the trail and letting the bears walk by, with bear spray in hand, she said.
“My teaching is don’t be afraid of them and just be respectful of them and give them space,” said Lamb, whose organization aims to minimize the number of bears killed as a result of interactions with humans.
Still, she said, it’s important to set boundaries.
“Tell them what’s acceptable and what’s not.”
Cyclist Milner didn’t have that option in the split seconds before he crashed into the bear, which he said appeared to be unhurt as it nibbled on grass after their collision.
He attributes the painful encounter to bad luck.
“It’s just kind of a hard-to-avoid situation. I mean, you if you were driving your car and say a bear or a deer jumps out on the highway, (there’s only) so much you can do, right?”
Nono Shen, The Canadian Press