Bears pay for human mistakes: conservation office

Increased calls to conservation about bears getting into trash have Central Island conservation officer Brittany Mueller frustrated.

A bear breaks into an unsecured residential garbage bin.

Increased calls to conservation about bears getting into trash have Central Island conservation officer Brittany Mueller frustrated.

“We’re getting daily reports of bears accessing garbage,” said Mueller.

“We’re constantly educating but the residents aren’t taking action.”

Mueller said that the Port Alberni conservation office has had 81 calls in September and 62 in October as of last week.

“They’re attracted to non-natural food sources,” she said. That includes garbage, pet food and fruit left to rot on the ground.

Mueller is in part frustrated because Port Alberni is a BearSmart community—the only one on Vancouver Island and one of only six in the entire province.

It’s also a community held up as a shining example of what a BearSmart community should look like—at least on the government level.

Speaking earlier this year, BearSmart BC consulting executive director Crystal  McMillan said that the city has become “a model that’s being used province wide as an example of how to implement BearSmart measures.”

That includes bylaws, fines and information pamphlets.

“Their bylaws say how to effectively manage your garbage to reduce conflict with bears, they have put out 7,000 BearSmart brochures in utility bills, there’s BearSmart information on their website and they’ve invested $1.5 million into a bear-resistant garbage system,” said McMillan.

The city’s solid waste bylaw lists fines of $100 each for not using animal-resistant hardware on their garbage bins and for keeping waste where it is accessible to wildlife.

“Every premise is responsible to prevent animals from accessing the garbage through proper management of the garbage and the container,” the bylaw reads.

“The city of Port Alberni provides animal resistant hardware for standard containers where requested by the residents for situations where animals are a nuisance.”

Provincial penalties are much harsher, said Mueller, adding that a fine of up $50,000 can be imposed for the “attraction of wildlife.”

The city’s bear-resistant bins are available from the public works yard and cost the same amount as the regular ones. If you already have a garbage bin, the city will install bear locks (pictured below) free of charge. The number to call is 250-720-2840.

According to Port Alberni’s BearSmart liaison Guy Cicon, the city ordered 3,542 unit of the bear resistant hardware several years ago and is still working off of that supply.

However, getting people to keep their bins locked until collection time is a challenge.

“Garbage needs to be secured at all times till the morning of garbage collection,” she said. City bylaws are less strict here; they simply state that the bear locks must be unlatched by 7 a.m. on collection day and re-latched within 12 hours.

On the upside, Mueller said that calls for the bear-resistant bins have increased lately.

“Now there’s a bit of a wait list,” Mueller said.

But there’s still no excuse not to make that call, Mueller said.

“Just because you’ve lived in Port Alberni for 10, 20 years and never had an issue isn’t a reason not to do your part,” she said.

When bears become food conditioned, there aren’t many option left for conservation officers.

According to the Ministry of Environment “translocation (or relocating the bear) is rarely successful as often these bears return to their original home territory or they become ‘problem’ bears in other communities.”

There’s also not enough suitable territory for bears to be relocated to—leading them to die either of starvation or of other bears’ attacks.

That, Mueller said, is why prevention is key.

“Otherwise, bears pay with their lives for human mistakes.”

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