Hungry bruins are back, and this doesn’t mean hockey players from Boston are in town and looking for somewhere to eat.
The BC Conservation Officer Service says that bears are now emerging from winter hibernation, and are looking for easily accessible food sources. With natural food sources limited at this time of year, bears will often be attracted to residential areas, which can unfortunately resemble an all-you-can-eat buffet for bruins that are looking to fatten up after hibernation.
“People get into a pattern over the winter, and get more relaxed because the bears aren’t around,” says Vanessa Isnardy, provincial coordinator for WildSafeBC. “Now it’s spring cleaning time, so it’s a good time to review what’s going on in our yards.”
Isnardy says a bear has already had to be destroyed this year in Kamloops.
“When it came out of hibernation it began attacking chickens and breaking into their structures. It’s important to take steps now. Look around and see what attractants are in your yard. We’ve already seen pictures of bears destroying barbecues, so it’s important to manage these attractants now.”
She notes that bears have an incredible sense of smell, which is why the odours coming from barbecues — even ones that aren’t being used — can be very tempting.
“Bears can live for 15 or 20 years if they stay out of trouble, and they can get drawn into communities. Black bears especially can get habituated. Once they learn that they can access food they’re likely to come back.
“If they went to bed after getting into conflict last year, they might go straight back to the food sources they had.” That’s why, she says, it’s important to keep barbecues clean and to regularly empty the grease tray.
Bird feeders are another common attractant, with bears seeking out high-calorie items such as sunflower seeds. Isnardy says that at this time of year birds aren’t having a problem finding food.
“There are lots of natural foods available for them. If you have a bird feeder up and can’t keep it out of the reach of bears, clean it out and take it down for the season.”
She adds that the natural sounds of birdsong can be very soothing and bring people’s stress levels down, and that there are other ways to attract birds to your yard.
“Install a birdhouse or put in a bird bath. You can get a good pair of binoculars and enjoy the birds. There are lots of them around, and the sound of nature can be very therapeutic.”
Fruit trees are another common attractant for bears, and while harvest time is still some way off, there are steps gardeners can take now to reduce attractions in the future.
“If you have fruit trees, consider pruning them back now to make them more manageable come fall,” says Isnardy. If you have fruit trees that you don’t want, they can be replaced with non-fruit trees that still provide ornamental blossoms in the spring.
“No one likes to cut down a tree, but you can replace it with something that brings you joy and won’t attract dangerous animals to the property if you’re not going to pick the fruit.” Fruit trees can also spread diseases, and Isnardy notes that they can often take a lot of work if they’re to be managed properly.
“If you’re not able to invest that time and effort, replace the tree with one that has beautiful blossoms in the spring but no fruit.”
Whatever kind of work you’re doing in the garden this spring, be careful about where you leave brush piles, as they can attract rodents and other critters, which can in turn attract bears. Sightlines should be kept clean, and homeowners should make sure not to leave cover for animals too close to their home. Branches should be trimmed so they’re not too close to the house, since overhanging branches can provide a way for arboreal animals such as squirrels or raccoons to climb a tree and gain access to your roof.
Garbage is a common, and all-too-enticing, attractant for bears. Garbage should not be placed outside for pick-up until the morning of collection. If you have smelly food items to dispose of, and don’t want them lingering in your bin until garbage day — particularly in the heat of summer — wrap them securely and put them in the deep freeze until it’s time to dispose of them.
Isnardy encourages people who spot bears, or other wild animals, in urban areas to report the sighting to the RAPP (Report All Poachers and Polluters) 24-hour hotline at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277). “The information goes on their website to let people know. A lot of people use Facebook to let people know among themselves, but some people don’t have Facebook, and the Conservation Office doesn’t see it, we don’t see it. If bears are getting into garbage or attractants it’s important to know what drew them, whether it’s conflict with livestock, fruit trees, or garbage.”
She acknowledges that not everyone wants to report bear sightings in an urban environment, for fear that it will lead to immediate destruction of the bear.
“The Conservation Officers Service will triage the situation, and if the bear isn’t in conflict and isn’t a threat they won’t destroy it.”
Isnardy says that the growing number of humans in the natural landscape has an effect on wildlife, especially since we like to choose the best, most fertile land and build around where wildlife likes to be.
“Every wild animal has its place and should be appreciated, but having wildlife in communities leads to them becoming habituated. It’s better to have them in the wild, where they’re safe and we’re safe. They can pass through; we just don’t want them lingering here.
“We can’t manage animals the way we can manage our own behaviour, so it’s up to us to stay safe and keep out of conflict. Feeding them is in no one’s best interests, so let’s ensure they have wild, natural spaces to enjoy.”