A scavenging black bear eats toast out of a stolen garbage bag. Bears that get habituated to finding food in residential neighbourhoods run the risk of being destroyed. To reduce the frequency of such situations, the City of Port Alberni is reminding residents to secure their garbage cans between pickup times and offering them other tips to prevent bears from being attracted to their properties. Photo stock.adobe.com

Get Bear Smart: simple steps to protect your home and neighbourhood

Alberni Valley bears can’t change their behaviour, but you can, to better co-exist with wildlife

-As a resident of Port Alberni, you’re familiar with black bears wandering into and around town. After all, the Valley is an active wildlife corridor.

While they have plenty of natural food sources, many bears find the pickings easier in neighbourhoods like yours, attracted by aromas drifting from garbage bins, uncleaned barbecues – even outdoor pet food dishes or bird feeders.

“They have a keen sense of smell and over time they recognize these things as food sources,” says Port Alberni-based B.C. Conservation Officer Dan Eichstadter. “It’s easy, instant calories they don’t have to do much work for.”

Are your actions encouraging bears?

Eichstadter receives multiple reports a day of bears hunting for food or hanging around residential areas. Destroying a bear is a “last resort,” he says, and only results when COs determine the animal has become habituated to finding food in populated areas, which puts human safety at risk.

The City of Port Alberni has created a list of basic steps to help you deter bears. The tip list goes hand in hand with the City’s Solid Waste Collection Bylaw, which requires residents to take garbage cans to the curb the morning of pickup – not the night before, which is a ticketable infraction. Picking up fallen fruit and keeping cooking equipment and coolers clean and securely stored are other effective ways to prevent bear-human conflicts, Eichstadter says.

Keep your cans out of reach after pickup

Securing your garbage bins at non-pickup times is important, says City Bylaw Enforcement Officer Nathan Bourelle. “If you have a garage, think about keeping your cans in there. And while bear-resistant hardware for your cans is not mandatory, we do make it available for free. Contact the City Public Works Department for details.”

Bylaw enforcement can be flexible for shift workers who set their cans out early at 5 or 6 a.m., he adds. “We encourage you to talk to your neighbours if you need help. We’re asking the public to be mindful of this issue, because the community together needs to create this change of behaviour.”

Your wildlife-friendly community

The City is one of eight Bear Smart communities in B.C. that have programs and policies aimed at improving how residents co-exist with bears. “It takes a lot to get that designation and we’re quite proud of it,” says Alicia Puusepp, the City’s Manager of Communications. “That means we have a certain standard we’ve committed to upholding in terms of wildlife conservation.”

Keeping wildlife wild

Once-prevalent attitudes encouraging the destruction of “problem bears” are improving, Eichstadter says. “We’re co-existing with them and we just need to control our half of the relationship,” he says. “We need to keep wildlife wild.”

Help prevent bears from being needlessly destroyed and avoid fines by securing your garbage properly and removing other animal attractants on your property. If you encounter wildlife that is aggressive, breaking into buildings or causing damage, call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277. For other tips, visit the B.C. Ministry of Environment online or visit bearsmart.com.

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