While winter means some of the Alberni Valley’s resident black bears are still fast asleep, both the uncharacteristically warm weather and the approaching spring mean that residents should be on their guard.
There have been 318 reports of black bears in Port Alberni from April 1, 2014 to Jan. 27, 2015 and 25,000 province wide.
Black bears typically venture into urban areas for garbage and fruit. While those are strong bear attractants, they’re also relatively easy to address.
“Every single resident should have or has access to a free, residential, bear-resistant poly (garbage) cart so there’s really no reason for bears to get into people’s garbage these days,” said BearSmart BC consulting executive director Crystal McMillan.
Several years ago the city bought 3,542 BearSmart garbage cans, which comprise half of their inventory.
While the BearSmart cans can be damaged by the bears, city BearSmart liaison Guy Cicon says that animal resistant garbage cans don’t allow the bears to get into the garbage.
Since becoming a Bear Smart community in 2013, McMillan said that the city has become a model that’s being used province wide as an example of how to implement BearSmart measures.
“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.”
While the city has made enormous strides, the regional district hasn’t been as progressive. Sproat Lake sees a lot of bears, largely due to the lack of BearSmart garbage cans available to regional district residents. McMillan hopes that greater buy-in to the BearSmart program from the ACRD will come soon and reduce the number of bear sightings.
Another facet of reducing bear attractants is making sure that fruit is picked up off the ground promptly, or ideally picked before it even gets the chance to fall.
“In the Alberni Valley, fruit is pretty much the second attractant under garbage,” McMillan said, adding that it’s not just rural properties and farms but trees in the downtown core as well.
“Bears come in for the apples in the neighbourhood, they come in from the periphery first, they’ll start accessing some of the rural areas and then they’ll just keep coming into town,” she said, adding that food conditioned bears often only hibernate for a few weeks.
“Where we really run into trouble is when they start getting into the fruit trees and then hang around and start getting into the garbage or vice versa.”