Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bear story part two - humans living in harmony, animals not so much

A few days ago, I wrote about the visit of an Uninvited Caller. Thanks to dedicated volunteers and modern conservation efforts, most outcomes of human/bear encounters end safely for both animals and people. Certainly, it was startling to confront an adult bear inside my home but I didn't feel at risk. Black bears are naturally shy and become nuisances to people only through our collective carelessness. Usually, they are easily scared away. Rather few injuries or fatalities associate with human contact of these animals. In this piece, I write about black bears (ursus americanus) not the grizzlies (ursus arctos horribilis) which are more aggressive if people encroach on their space.

Years ago, after human/bear contact, the response of authorities was often harsh. My family moved into the Seymour River valley in the seventies. Few of us gave much thought to bear risks beyond expecting the wildlife service to show up promptly after a sighting, bringing guns or at least a containment trap. I recall returning to our quiet neighbourhood one day and was shocked to see rifle toting RCMP and wildlife officers walking by my driveway. Minutes before, a black bear had been fatally shot in the yard next door to ours.

Most bear efforts years ago were aimed at relocation but repeat visitors, if they returned from far afield, were given no more chances to reform. Relocation is still an important tool but today's strategy focuses on changing human behaviour so that bears can be left alone. A couple of decades ago, North Vancouver ran the giant Premier garbage landfill site near Lynn Creek at the edge of the North Shore forest. That was a smörgåsbord, thankfully now closed, for hungry wild animals and bears were a common sight nearby.  If local animals wandered elsewhere, they quickly searched for exposed garbage and it was all around in those times before people learned to exercise diligent care.

I once used a plastic waste barrel with a snap-lock top but the closure was easily defeated. I employed elastic bungee cords to secure the lid, but learned that sanitation workers would not collect our garbage because, "They risked injury and experienced delay when removing the bungee cords." I argued but the municipal people were adamant. They didn't approve of bear-proof containers because efficiency of the refuse collection system had priority. I don't know how much that has changed, if any.

However, citizens grew ever more uncomfortable with executing bears whose crime was a taste for food carelessly discarded by humans. Organizations such as the North Shore Black Bear Society taught people to live in harmony with bears.  The Liberal government decimated the wildlife service staff so there were few responders able to deal with rogue bears and, although an unintended consequence, that meant that animals were usually allowed to amble back into the forest without challenge.

After chasing the bear out of our house, I called 911 and asked if the RCMP could drive through the neighbourhood and warn any children playing outside to exercise caution or return home. They did that quite promptly which was pleasing. They told me to call the Victoria toll free number to advise the answering machine about the incident.

The next day, a wildlife officer called and we talked a little and he said they had a number of other reports so would probably set up a trap in the area and try to relocate the troublesome bear.  The animals, it seems, have smelling capability equal to or better than bloodhound dogs. The conservation guy advised me that, with excellent memories, once-fed bears return for more so extra caution is needed when we deal with food, garbage and other potential attractions.  A day later, Bear Aware Specialist Christine Miller telephoned to discuss the event and offered to help us or anyone nearby if information about animal contact was needed.

Obviously, no harm resulted and I was supposed to take that bag of garbage out of the kitchen anyway. At least, this gives us a fun story to relate. I pass along the information here mostly to recognize and applaud the efforts of people like Christine Miller who put a lot of practical effort into their very simple but noble cause. It is best  expressed by their phrase, "Living in Harmony with Bears."

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  1. Now, if we could get the RCMP to taser those bears instead of people,they just might stop coming into populated areas.

    Negative reinforcement is a great animal training tool.

    Sometimes it is better to leave authorities out of it, if there is no risk to you or your neighbours. There is just to many gun happy, shoot em' up Palin types that show up.

  2. Now, I don't want to fight with anyone and I'm not being facetious, but I'm not 100% sure this method is working.

    When I was a kid in the 70's, we had a dump. All the bears hung out at the dump. I wandered my community at all hours of the day and night and don't ever remember ever seeing a bear or hearing of any destruction that they caused.

    Now, they are in our yards, houses, we see them on our daily walks and even in our cars regularly. They destroy bird feeders, fences, gardens. Doesn't matter where you keep your garbage. I had a huge box with a plywood lid. Bear just ripped off the lid. Put it in my garage. Bear broke the door. Kept it in my house, but had to keep the door closed all the time because I had a mama and 3 cubs living in my backyard. Didn't smell too good.

    I preferred knowing they were all in one place.

  3. A sad update. July 11, the black bear who entered our house did the same thing elsewhere today. Conservation officers say that he has been a problem bear for a few years and was habituated to feeding inappropriately. They have tried relocation but he returns and has no fear of entering buildings. Like many other bears spoiled by human carelessness, this beast ran out of chances. It is a shame.



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