It takes a village to save a bear – or kill one

By Andrea Arnold


This trap, set by Conservation Officers from Prince George, was set on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 1st.  By Saturday morning, it had done its job and the officers returned to remove it./ANDREA ARNOLD

For residents in McBride, seeing a bear or two around town each spring and fall has become a regular thing. So regular that some people seem to have become complacent.

When a black bear was spotted in town recently, the “McBride Discussion Board” featured many comments stating people had seen the bear in their yard, or that it had been found sleeping somewhere cozy. There were also several reports of garbage being strewn across yards and fruit trees being climbed. The bear was even spotted inside an open garage.

Harmony Macdonald was one of the individuals who had her trash on display for the neighbours. “When I realized how bad it was I was frustrated,” she said. “Then, while cleaning it up, I followed the beaten down path through my yard that the bear had obviously used more than once. I was concerned for the safety of my cats.”

By the time the conservation service was called, the bear seemed pretty comfortable in town. People kept a closer eye on their animals and there was expressed concern for children’s safety.   

On Tuesday afternoon, conservation officers from Prince George, in partnership with the local RCMP, set a bear trap tucked in the trees near the village entrance.

Conservation Officer Sergeant Steve Ackles, asks for the community’s help in preventing the next bear from becoming too familiar and comfortable with urban life.

“If you see a bear in town, make noise,” he said. “Bang pots and pans together or yell. Don’t let it be comfortable by doing nothing.”

He also wants to remind people that during all non-hibernation months, it is important for people living in bear country to remember to secure all aromatic garbage. This is not an isolated issue. During the interview, Ackles was sitting on a street in Prince George that is known for bear visits, and he counted several garbage bins sitting in front of closed garages. He stated that Conservation Officers have the jurisdiction to issue fines if a bear has been reported and garbage is being left out.

“If people do not have a secure place to store their trash, my suggestion is to freeze your leftovers after each meal,” he said. “Then it isn’t garbage yet. It is just frozen leftovers, that are not stinking up the house.”

Alternatively, he suggests a small section of electric fence around where you keep your garbage. The other reminder for fall that he discussed is the need to clean off all fruit from trees.

Ackles also wants the public to know that if a bear is spotted in town and reported to them before they are accustomed to “city” life, there is hope that the bear can be convinced to move on without the need for force. By removing all food sources and preventing it from being comfortable with humans (loud noises for example), the bear may leave on its own, or may be caught and relocated before it becomes accustomed to human food through scavenging.   

In the case of this bear (caught in the trap between Friday evening and Saturday morning), it was too late for relocation to be an option.  In accordance with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Procedure Manual large carnivores will be destroyed under any of the following conditions: There is evidence that the animal has gone through human food-conditioning to an extent that, if moved, would attempt to return to human activity areas where foods are expected.

When relocation is not an option and the bear is euthanized the remains are donated because “garbage bears” are not fit for human consumption. First Nations groups, museums and universities have all been recipients in the past and continue to have a partnership with Conservation Services.

This is not a part of the job that Ackles enjoys. He would much rather work with the public through education and cooperation, and have a happier ending for all beings involved.

“You’ve heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child?” he said “Well, it takes a village to save a bear.”

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