Problem bears prowling for trash in Skidegate

  • Jul. 20, 2009 9:00 a.m.

By Alex Rawlings-Sunshine and berries are coming out, and so are the bears. Over the past few weeks there have been a number of incidents in Skidegate involving food-conditioned bears. “There is a big bear corridor behind Charlotte and Skidegate, and they will come into town if they can smell a food source, and they will continue to return to that source in search of food… Bears are lured into areas by garbage and refuse,” said local Conservation Officer James Hilgemann. “I wouldn’t say it is a problem year yet, we have had little to no complaints, but people just might not be calling us and reporting it. People here are really tolerant.” Some residents of Skidegate say it has been a troublesome year for bears. “They have been up and down Fourth Avenue, they were into the garbage bins, and they have been hanging around even during the day,” said Sue Cowpar. “This is the first year that I have had to worry about bears, they seem to be really hungry.” Food-conditioned bears are bears that have been able to access non-natural food sources – such as garbage and other refuse like fish guts and deer carcasses – and have become accustomed to that food as opposed to natural sources. “There’s three or four bears that have been hanging around Skidegate,” said Steve Collinson, who has been tasked to patrol the area for rogue bears. “It is a lot of bears, more than we are used to seeing, I think. Unfortunately one of the bears became such a problem it was shot on the beach, it was a real problem bear. It had been wandering the streets during the daytime for two weeks getting braver and braver every day. There was concern for the children in the neighbourhood.” Often, once a bear is food-conditioned it will return to the source of food, resulting in the bear losing its fear of humans and becoming a potential hazard to people and property. Conditioned bears are more difficult to drive away than other bears and unfortunately, all too often, they become problem bears according to the Ministry of Environment. “We call James (Hilgemann) when we have a real problem, and it is getting there with another bear, we have been trying to scare it with bear bangers, but it keeps coming back,” Mr. Collinson said. Bears have to eat, but according to the Conservation Officer Service website, a ‘fed bear is a dead bear’. “We have a live trap that we use to capture problem bears, but we don’t relocate them, we destroy them as most communities do,” Mr. Hilgemann said. “Last year we had 25 to 30 complaints, and we ended up destroying three or four bears,” he told us. There are things that can be done to minimize bear-human contact and reduce the number of bears destroyed each year. “People should keep their garbage inside if possible, and if they are cleaning fish or disposing of deer carcasses they should be taking the refuse down past the low tide mark so that it is washed away,” Mr. Collinson said. “It shouldn’t be dumped in the bush.” Mr. Hilgemann echoed the same idea: “The first step is to contact us so that we can monitor the bear’s activity and make sure we target the right bear. Then we try to work with people by helping to clear refuse and garbage. That’s the main thing.” To report a problem bear call 1-877-952-7277 or call Steve Collinson at 250-641-0977.