That’s the number of black bears killed by BC’s Conservation Officer Service last month — nearly double the amount of animals destroyed the previous year with 54, according to the Ministry’s Human-Predator Conflicts Monthly Update.
This comes on the heels of conservation group the Fur-Bearers calling for changes in how black bear management is handled after “numerous reports” in May resulted in bears being euthanized by conservation officers in the Tri Cities — human activity being blamed.
Now the North Shore Black Bear Society is raising concern about the number of black bears being killed in the province — and calling for change following the COS’ decision to put down a sow and her two cubs after they entered a house through an open window and rummaged for food in Furry Creek on June 6th, because it was determined they were not candidates for rehabilitation or relocation due to the number of calls the ministry received about them already.
In a phone interview with Daily Hive Vancouver, North Shore Black Bear Society Executive Director Christine Miller said there’s a lot of “misunderstandings about black bears, and people who sort of promote fear that’s not accurate in the community,” explaining that the animals aren’t out there “looking for” people or pets — just accessible food.
“A lot of us live right next to the forest and so they sort of share the land with us and if we are not diligent with our household waste, and if we have bird feeders out or whatever, we’re inviting them close to people’s homes — but black bear attacks are extremely rare,” Miller said.
Miller said “around 80 per cent of what they [black bears] consume is plant material and it’s easily accessible in a household waste container so if that’s available to them, that’s easier than being out in the forest and having to find foliage and berries and, you know, plant material in the wild.”
As to why there’s been so many black bears destroyed this year, Miller said at this point there can only be speculation because there hasn’t been any extreme weather to impact food sources, or if there’s been more sightings — which would result in more calls from concerned residents who don’t know much about black bears, putting in an “emotional report” out of fear.
“I get calls myself, people that I talk to if they are frightened or anxious, you know, we’ll make house calls or we’ll send them information, we explain things to them, we’re actually able to educate on the phone or by email, which is a great service that a local group, like ours, can provide, whereas if they, you know, are calling into Victoria like the RAPP line [Report All Poachers and Polluters line] they’re speaking to a dispatcher who is servicing the whole province for every species and so they don’t have the time to you know educate when somebody makes a report,” Miller said.
Now after the death of the black bear family in Furry Creek, Miller said there needs to be changes made in how cubs of the year are handled.
For example, Miller said if cubs follow their mom into a confined space, like a garage that may have garbage in it, “if they [the COS] follow the matrix for the family, the mother and the cubs, they all get killed and we think that it’s normal that the cubs would be going with their mothers, and because they are so young especially at this time of the year,” Miller explaining, “those bears could go to a rehab centre and, you know, learn to forage for food.”
Easy solution: Secure your attractants
COS Spokesperson Murray Smith said the ministry has had more than double the number of reports from the public come in, “so if there’s a, you know, a double in the number bears that have been euthanized, then there’s… it’s gonna be directly proportional to the amount of calls we’ve had.”
For example, in the Lower Mainland alone, where Smith is an inspector, “the last year we’ve had 4,500 bear reports to the Conservation Officer Service in an entire year, we’ve already had 2,000 — so almost half the calls have already come in since April, and really it’s within, you know, two and a half months,” but Smith adds in those 2,000 calls, about 20 bears had been euthanized, and four relocated.
Smith said the COS prioritizes each call, so even if it’s just a “sighting” that comes in, it won’t get a response from a conservation officer, but the bears that the conservation officers are responding to are the ones that are “breaking into houses, that are doing significant property damage, breaking into cars or they’ve… they’ve done… continuously had multiple and multiple reports on the same bear in the same area of the same subdivision in a short period of time.”
Smith said that while he can’t confirm if garbage is the leading factor when it comes to the spike in calls to the COS, said it’s still the number one reason for human-wildlife conflict, “sometimes there’s up to 30 reports of a bear and in each case the bear is into human-sourced foods.”
“And it’s such an easy solution,” Smith said, “lets secure attractants and then bears can remain wild. We don’t want to attract them into our communities and that’s unfortunately what happens.”
Conservation officers are careful, and only attend the “more extreme situations,” according to Smith, “what’s frustrating for conservation officers is you know the fact that we’ve gotta go out there and we’ve got the enviable task of having to destroy a beautiful animal — and there isn’t a conservation officer in the world that got into this job to destroy wildlife, they got into this job to protect it.”
Smith said that if residents are found improperly storing attractants, they can be fined $345, and if a repeat offender — you can go to court, in accordance to the Wildlife Act.
In regards to the North Shore Black Bear Society’s call to change laws around euthanizing cubs of year, Smith said it’s been proven that when a cub is taught how to forage through garbage and how to get into buildings, and sent to rehab, when they are rereleased a year later back into the wild where they once lived, the bears go back to those conflict habits, and conservation officers “can’t take the chance of that,” but adds cubs are always evaluated by wildlife biologists first to determine if they can be rehabbed instead — adding 5 have already been taken to rehab this year.
The COS is reminding the public to secure attractants, Smith said you can do that by putting bird feeders away when they’re not being used, making sure garbage is stored in a secured building, and encourages the public to keep an eye out for early signs of problems so that conservation officers can get their early to prevent calls from getting worse — he said you can do that by calling the RAPP line with the option of remaining anonymous.
Miller said British Columbians can help black bears by managing attractants, keeping their animals on leash when they hit the trails, and educating themselves about black bears, as well as their environment.