Dealing with the bears in our backyard

“B.C. is Bear Country” is a very popular slogan and one that is well known to us at Christina Lake. Almost every day, I receive photographs from the people in my community that really appreciate and feel privileged to witness wildlife viewing opportunities all year.

Each year

“B.C. is Bear Country” is a very popular slogan and one that is well known to us at Christina Lake.

Almost every day, I receive photographs from the people in my community that really appreciate and feel privileged to witness wildlife viewing opportunities all year.

There is an intrinsic and spiritual quality in each story I hear. The same is true for bears when they come out of their winter sleep (they are not true hibernators).

At the onslaught, pictures are abundant, with cubs as cute as the dickens. Then things seem to change and this is almost always induced by bears in garbage.

It is a fairly common sight to have bears pass through to go to happier hunting and foraging grounds. When their natural food is abundant, bears thrive in healthy numbers according to habitat type and territorial requirements. When their natural food is scarce such as a poor berry crop year, bear populations may decline but that is the natural order of things.

A further explanation to black bear population dynamics is demonstrated by their reproductive gestational process. Black bears mate in late-spring or early-summer but the embryo does not start to grow until the female enters her den in the fall. A viable pregnancy is dependent on the bear gaining enough body weight to support cubs.

Cubs are born in January or February while the female is denned. By April or May, mom and cubs are ready to leave their den. The cubs learn how to find food and survive during the spring, summer and fall, and will remain close to their mother for another year or so. Except for during mating season and when raising young, the bear is a solitary animal.

A black bear’s home range size varies with age of the animal, habitat of the territory, and food supply. Poor habitat conditions necessitate a larger home range in order to supply the bear with sufficient food, water and shelter. The better the quality of the habitat, the smaller the home range needs to be. On average, the male black bears home range is 20 to 150 square kilometres and the female’s is two to 40 square kilometres.

Each year, humans move farther and farther into black bear habitat, which can create conditions for interaction, as bears try to access natural food sources, dens and water.

Unfortunately, human food sources encountered along the way offer dangerous temptations and consequences. When natural food is scarce, black bears may seek an easier meal via human food sources such as garbage, pet food, bird seed, domestic fruit trees and the ultimate “yummy,” chickens.

Therefore, we can inadvertently increase population levels by feeding bears in years of scarce natural food, thus creating unrealistic population levels in a habitat that cannot sustain them. So begins the vicious circle with habituated and human food conditioned bears and their offspring.

During the summer and early fall the urgency to survive creates an almost manic feeding frenzy called “hyperphagia” as they require a great deal of food to store in their body as fat in order to subsist through the long winter months.

When food attractants are readily available, bears can easily become conditioned to eating human food and eventually stop foraging for their natural food and become a dangerous nuisance. Relocation efforts often fail because bears will travel to return to their home range. Habituated and human food conditioned bears can pose a risk to public safety and are often killed by humans.

The most effective way to prevent conflict with bears is to address the root of the problem and eliminate bear attractants from residential areas, businesses and campgrounds. When there is no human food attractants available, bears will move on. It will take the entire community working together to help prevent the unnecessary destruction of bears.

For further information, please contact the Christina Lake Stewardship Society at 250-447-2504 or email us at  clss@shaw.ca.