Managing menace: getting smart with bears

by Andru McCracken


They say burning firewood heats you twice, once collecting it, the second time burning it, but when you’ve got to run the gauntlet with a grizzly bear nearby, it may even heat you three times. Lyn Smith snapped this photo of her husband collecting firewood in 2012 from their property in Dome Creek. Now they live in McBride, but they still keep their property bear smart. / LYN SMITH

Everyone can agree they are big, hungry and coming into town to find food, but everyone seems to have their own opinion on what to do about bears. While there are many Facebook reports and evidence of bears in both Valemount and McBride, the Prince George Conservation Office said unless an incident is reported to their RAPP line (1-877-952-7277), they will not respond.

Sergeant Steve Ackles of the Prince George Conservation Office said when people see reports of bears on social media they assume it has been reported to the authorities. That is not always the case.

“I don’t have time to read Facebook all day, I’m working,” said Ackles. “We don’t just come and destroy bears for being on the landscape.”

Ackles said bears eating apples that haven’t been picked is not enough to justify an intervention.

“It’s not a non-natural food source,” he said.

Ackles said 85% of the calls he receives mention how many children are in the area, and it makes him wonder why community members aren’t willing to take the necessary precautions to prevent bear conflict in the first place.

“If you want to keep your children safe, keep your garbage away,” he said. “It is a known factor that will bring the bears into town.”

Ackles said if bears become defensive of a non-natural food source then the Conservation Service will intervene.

“If someone walks by and the bear is huffing and puffing and protecting that food, the bear has become food conditioned,” he said.

In that case the bear will be euthanized.

“It’s not fair to the bear,” said Ackles. “Bears are within our communities. We build green spaces and plant fruit trees and invite them in.”

Ackles said the bears go through hyperphagia in late August and early September.

“They are trying to put on as much fat as they can before winter,” said Ackles.

For Vern Pawloske, a McBride farmer, bears are a nuisance and a menace.

“They come here and they wreck my apple trees, ornamentals and pear trees,” said Pawloske.

He said last year a bear climbed his crab apple tree after a frost, even though there wasn’t a single crab apple on the tree.

“It just disfigures the trees,” he said.

For Pawloske, picking the fruit before it is ripe is a non-starter.

“It’s no good if you pick it green,” he said. “I’m being robbed by bears.”

Pawloske believes land owners should have the right to shoot a bear if they trespass and do damage, and in town he thinks conservation officers need to get busy.

“If you can’t walk the streets safely they are not doing their job,” he said. “Get them out of there.”

According to Ackles, community members need to do more to secure fruit trees, especially late season apples.

“Where you live, you are going to see bears. If you haven’t taken rudimentary steps to mitigate… that’s not a cause to kill a bear,” said Ackles.

He said an electric fence around fruit trees will stop most bears.

“If you have put up (an electric fence) and some bears are stubborn, then we’re there to help you,” he said.

Ackles said conservation officers are unwilling just to kill bears merely for being spotted in communities.

“We’re often painted with a black brush,” he said. “But we don’t just kill bears. It’s a new millenium and there are good solutions for bear-proofing your home, neighbourhood, garbage and fruit trees.”

For Lyn Smith who owns McBride’s Bell Mountain Hotel, bears are a part of life: ever present, but especially visible in the fall when it is time to fatten up. For her it’s up to the landowners to try and manage conflict.

“We pick all our apples and make sure the garbage is away,” she said. It’s a habit acquired from living in Penny and Dome Creek, where grizzly bears are not an uncommon sight.

Smith keeps vigil over anything that might attract bears because she also keeps bees and fears the bears may decide to go for her hives.

On Facebook, Matthew Slaney of the Village of McBride’s Public Works department asked residents to clean up any remaining fruit from trees and double check that garbage is well stored.

“Maybe it will move along if there is no easy food,” posted Slaney.

A Valemount resident reposted his advice after a bear was spotted in town limits near the elementary school at night.

Ackles said if a bear is on its hind feet, it is curious, not necessarily aggressive.

Huffing and puffing and clacking of teeth can let you know if you are too close.

“In the movies the bear stands up before he attacks,” said Ackles. “That is far from aggressive behaviour. It is curious – using its nose and eyes.”

“When I have been charged by a bear, there is no vocalization, and it is staring at you, its hackles are up and it is pouncing up and down with its front paws,” he said  “There might be a woof, but it’s more of a growl.”

He said a bear looking around is trying to find a way out.

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