Bears are ruled by their need to eat. In the spring bears wake up hungry, and in the fall bears need about 20,000 calories every day in preparation for hibernation. That would mean approximately 300 apples, 80 hotdogs or 70 hamburgers, every day! While a bear’s natural foods include vegetation (greens, roots and berries), insects, carrion, and fish, they are not dictated by good dietary practices. If natural food sources fail, bears are more likely to check out what is available to them in town and if they don’t find any food in town they will look somewhere else. Each year in BC, about 800 black bears have to be destroyed to protect the public. And here is the clincher; the problem isn?t actually with the bears. The problem lies with people.
Much like humans, bears prefer the path of least resistance. Bears will find food in the easiest way possible, and once they realize that they can find food in a garbage can or dumpster, that is where they will head for lunch. Bears are naturally conditioned to remember easy sources of food. After one taste of trash, a bear may forever associate residential areas with food. Rather than pillage and dig, working for their food, bears would rather tear open a garbage bag and have a meal fit for a…well, for a bear.
Bears have a keen sense of smell. If residents leave garbage out, leave food on the barbeque, have pet food accessible outside, or have yummy smelling compost they have issued an invitation to the bear to come over for a feast.
If we want to help bears, it is up to us to make some changes in our own behaviors and within our communities, to make the places we live in less appealing to bears. Remember, this is bear country. We moved in on their habitat and migration paths, and as industry begins taking over more bear territory, bear-human conflict is bound to become a bigger issue.
In Prince George, the Northern Bear Awareness Environmental Youth Team along with Omineca Bear-Human Conflict committee has been formed in an attempt to reduce the number of bears being destroyed within that community. They are also looking to increase acceptance for coexisting with these awesome creatures. This team has already come up with ideas on reducing the problem by raising community awareness and they seem to be working. Ideas such as: preventative education, promoting appreciation and tolerance of bears, bear proofing the community by minimizing unnatural attractants, conducting research on bear habitat and behaviours and promoting community involvement have resulted in a drop in the number of bears destroyed. Fifty bears were put down in 2002, which is down from fifty-six in 1999.
Another project that has been put in place is the fruit exchange program. Prince George residents and non-residents can register to be a part of this program. What happens is that those who have trees that they don?t wish to harvest are matched up with those who are looking to harvest fruit trees for personal use. Everyone is happy and there is no fruit lying around, drawing interested bears.
So remember, you aren?t helping the bears by leaving pet food, unpicked fruit from fruit trees, or garbage out for them to eat. Garbage-conditioned bears are likely to lose their natural aversion to people. If there is a person nearby, or if someone appears to be after their food, bears may attack. That is why many bears are destroyed each year.
What can you do to prevent bears from being destroyed?
Let?s learn a lesson from Prince George and be proactive in our approach to bears. And just a reminder: feeding bears, even unintentionally, is against the law in BC. Sorry Yogi!