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Quesnel residents reminded to stay bear aware

Do your part to reduce human-bear conflicts
A bear is seen earlier this month wandering properties near downtown Quesnel. (Sabrina Benko/Facebook photo)

By Frank Peebles

Staff writer

A bear awareness workshop was scheduled for Quesnel by conservationist Gillian Sanders, but she was unexpectedly unable to attend. But the bears are still out there. November can be a particularly problematic month for human-bear conflict due to the final days of the animals packing on calories in the hyperphagia stage of their annual cycle when humans expect them to be in their winter dens.

They may still pursue a final nutritional load for hibernation, so with homeowners’ November guard down, bears can do surprising damage as they go after garbage, porch jack-o-lanterns, barbecues, birdseed, pet food bowls, any opening that might lead to a meal.

“Many people do not think of their actions, and as a result, there are many instances of human-wildlife conflict in the Cariboo and across B.C.,” said Ted Traer, WildSafeBC’s coordinator in the Cariboo region. “Mostly, it is a result of people not managing their attractants, the number one reason why wildlife comes close to our homes. We all live in wildlife habitat no matter where we live in B.C., but if we manage our attractants, wildlife will focus on natural sources of food and reduce human-wildlife conflict.”

During the hyperphagia period, a common day for a bear is hunting for 17 hours, consuming 20,000 calories. They encounter family dogs, collide with vehicles, predate on any family pet that might be available, they are drawn to livestock, compost, fruit trees, greenhouses, barns, sheds with grain or sacks of feed, anything that might have the smells of something edible – even a half-sandwich left overnight in your car.

“It is imperative for everyone to secure any potential sources of calories for bears so that they are not rewarded for coming into our communities,” Traer said. “Bears are smart. They used to train them in the circus to do tricks, so once they find a food source, they cannot forget it. They have a nasal cavity the size of a toonie, and they can smell more than a kilometre. So once they find a food source, they don’t forget it. They have trapped bears and attempted to relocate them hundreds of kilometers away, and in a short time they are right back in the same spot looking for another meal. So, it is up to us to manage our attractants, and if we do that, we can all live in peace and harmony. We say we are the smarter ones; we need to act that way and manage our attractants so we keep wildlife wild and our communities safe.”

Traer has delivered the bear awareness message to local farmers and schools. He urges neighbours to work together to ward off any bear-human conflicts, and approach all recreation right now with bears still in mind. They have not fully gone into hibernation just yet.

“Bears have excellent memories and once they recognize your neighbourhood as a source of food, they are likely to return year after year,” said Traer. “Help break the cycle and never let a bear associate your neighbourhood with good foraging habitat.”

He also said that when bear sightings occur, report it to the Conservation Officer Service (1-877-952-7277). The information is tracked to “help inform our Wildlife Alert Reporting Program which is data used by WildSafeBC and others to prioritize education and outreach. This data is available to everyone. Do not wait until a bear becomes a threat to community safety before calling it in.”

Tips to reduce bear conflicts (in compliance with local bylaws)

• Ensure garbage and recyclables are stored inside until the morning of collection.

• If you do not have an indoor space to store your garbage, use a bear-resistant container.

• High-reward and odourous items such as meat scraps and food leftovers should be frozen until the day of collection.

• Feed pets indoors.

• Keep livestock feed indoors and in a secure container.

• Keep barbecues clean by burning off bits of food, giving the grills a good scrape, and cleaning the grease trap after each use.

• Do not use bird feeders until winter. Offer a bird bath or plant flowers instead.

• Harvest fruit and berries before they ripen and pick up fallen fruit. If you must leave fruit on trees to ripen, protect them with an electric fence.

• Secure fruit, vegetable gardens, beehives, chickens, and other small livestock with electric fencing.

• Maintain an odour-free compost.

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