By Laura Keil

Photo courtesy Northern Bear Awareness Society

Area conservation officers problem bears aren’t up this year, despite numerous reports on social media, but there is still work to be done to prevent problem bears from developing.

Prince George-based Conservation Officer Steve Ackles says it’s mating season right now and often that’s when you get a lot of sightings.

“It’s just sightings. They’re not doing anything. They’re trying to find a mate and that’s it.”

He said some bears do get habituated, but he doesn’t lay the blame with the bear.

“Really it’s not a bear problem, it’s a people problem, and people have to be diligent in managing their attractants.”

He said garbage is the biggest problem, but bird seed is a close second.

2014 RMG file photo / Richard Schmidtke

“We’ve got one bear (in Prince George) that’s really got a taste for it that’s been on the 3rd story balcony of apartment buildings.”

He encourages people to remove bird feeders in the spring and only hang them in the winter – November or later.

“People are told to remove their bird feeders at this time of year. They (the birds) don’t need it. But people still do that.”

He said he can issue tickets for bird feeders if it leads to a bear coming around.

Conservation Officer Warren Chayer, based in Clearwater, says this spring there has been a mix of Grizzly and Black Bear reports in the Blue River to Dunster corridor (their enforcement area ends at Dunster), with most Grizzly reports coming from the Dunster area.

He said there’s been a few complaints of bears eating chickens or getting into other attractants, but no bears have been killed to his knowledge.

He says in fall fruit trees are another problem. He says it’s extremely important to harvest fruit immediately and not let it accumulate on the ground.

“They can smell stuff miles away,” he said.

“You want to stop it before it starts.”

As for nature-lovers out in the bush, he says the best way to prevent a bear encounter in bear country is to make lots of noise. He encourages hikers and mountain bikers to whoop and holler as they make their way along trails – especially mountain bikers who descend swiftly and silently.

It’s important to be able to interpret bear behaviour correctly, Chayer said. When they are on their hind legs and sniffing their nose, it means they are curious, not aggressive. They may clack their jaws, huff and puff and stomp the ground – but that’s still a good sign.

“(The bear) is saying ‘Hey you’re too close – you better get out of here.’”

He said don’t run or scream in shrill voices. Grab a stick to make yourself look big and slowly back out of the area.

He also recommends having bear spray, just in case.

If it’s a predatory attack, the reaction will be different.

“Once he starts to scrape you, if he’s determined to kill you, then you better not play dead. You are trying to fight back with all you’ve got.”

He said with non-predatory bears, the right course of action is to make yourself look big and back out of the area while trying not to fall down on the ground. He said that goes for Grizzlies and black bears.

He said boaters can sometimes get into trouble if they round a corner and unintentionally find themselves between a mama bear and her cubs.

But almost always, humans can prevent bear encounters by managing attractants in town and making their presence known in the bush.