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‘Bears are eating machines on paws’

Bear Smart B.C. says a community waste management plan is necessary change bear behaviour

It takes the willingness and cooperation of everyone to become a bear-smart community.

Crystal McMillan, executive director at Bear Smart B.C. Consulting, says people need to take responsibility for their own property.

“Every land owner or land manager is the first wildlife manager of that piece of property,” said McMillan.

On July 14, another black bear was shot and killed after it was found roaming and getting into garbage, near the Sooke Community Hall. This was the fifth bear killed in the district since May.

“It’s so unfortunate for these bears,” said conservation officer Rick Dekelver. “It’s so preventable, but it’s an ongoing battle to get people to change their ways and put their garbage away.”

McMillan explained that although all bears have different personalities, it can only take one time of getting into garbage for a bear to become habituated.

“Bears are eating machines on paws,” said McMillan.

She explained that when bears get to that level of habituation, they will revert back to natural food sources. When a bear’s food sources become scarce, they go in to hibernation, but if a bear is habituated and feasting on garbage, it doesn’t have a need to hibernate.

“They become a part of the community,” said McMillan.

Debb Read from Wild Wise Sooke said that Sooke lies in a prime bear habitat area, and once bears receive the caloric reward of getting into someone’s garbage they take more chances and become more destructive.

“Living in the environment that we do, we need to realize that bears are a huge part of our natural ecology. And yes we have a healthy population of bears on Vancouver Island but we want it to remain that way,” said McMillan. “Garbage is the No. 1 killer of bears in the province.”

McMillan said in order to live in harmony, a community needs to implement strategies in waste and land use management, so that bears are not able to gain access to human food sources.

“We need to start by educating everyone in a municipality, and then give them the tools to make change,” she said.

Some communities, such as Port Alberni have already implemented strategies such as having bear-resistant garbage containers, and have successfully become bear safe. In order for Sooke to become bear safe, it would have to identify why the bears are coming in, come up with a waste management plan, set bylaws and monitor them, and consistently educate the community.

“It takes a whole bunch of people to make change,” said McMillan. “One person can initiate it but at the end of the day, to be bear smart you need to have a lot of people working together to make change.”