Bears are starting to be seen around the Elk Valley in early 2022. Pictured here: A black bear and her cub near Fernie in 2020. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Bears are starting to be seen around the Elk Valley in early 2022. Pictured here: A black bear and her cub near Fernie in 2020. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Bears start foraging in the Elk Valley for 2022

The bears are waking up and heading out, so keep your garbage secure

It’s April, and the bears are stirring in the Elk Valley.

“The bears are waking up,” said local Conservation Officer Patricia Burley.

“We haven’t had any conflict calls yet, but there have been sightings.”

Locals are likely to see grizzly bears on the valley floor in early spring, while black bears are a little sleepier, and come out of hibernation a few weeks later.

“There’s still a lot of snow up high,” said Burley. “Depending on where they hibernated they’ll stick close to the valley bottom searching for dandelions and green grass.”

Seemingly inevitably, they’ll find non-natural food sources. “They’re going to find other attractants quickly.”

READ MORE: A tough year for bears in the Elk Valley: Dozens euthanized, more killed in collisions

Burley and her fellow Conservation Officers are hoping that 2022 is a better year for human-bear conflict. 2021 was one of the worst years on record locally, with 31 bears having to be destroyed by local officers due risks to public safety.

Burley said that last years number wasn’t good enough.

“Living in this valley and coexisting with wildlife, you have you be responsible for managing attractants. So many people don’t seem to take it seriously enough.”

Attractants that draw bears into urban areas are unsecured garbage, fruit trees left unpicked, small livestock and feed, bird seed and compost. While attitudes in the Elk Valley have improved over the years, 2021 was a sign that the community has a long way to go in limiting risks to humans from bears, which can become habituated and dangerous if they consistently find food in town, requiring them to be destroyed.

“History is repeating itself, and we need to see improvements,” said Burley. “If we respond to a non-compliance call, it will be enforcement. We’re not interested in warnings.”

Locals and visitors are encouraged to remain vigilant about attractants. While it’s normal to see bears in and around town, locals are encouraged to report instances of property damage from bears searching for food, to report bears in areas where public safety is at risk and to report aggressive bears to the RAPP hotline at 1-877-952-7277.

Any grizzly bears within urban areas also need to be reported to the hotline.

If you have simply sighted a bear, report it to WildsafeBC. If you see fruit trees that aren’t being cleared of fruit, report it to your towns bylaw officer.

“Thank you to the community members of the Elk Valley that are maintaining their attractants and keeping our community safe,” said Burley. “Keep up the good work.”

Bears are a major part of the ecology of the region, and part of what makes the Elk Valley so special, but they are dying in huge numbers every year with spikes every so often.

Local biologist, Clayton Lamb, said that years like 2021 came up every now and then as a result of environmental factors colliding with improper attractant management and continual mortalities from collisions on the highway and rail line.

”We need to put our heads together and think about how we can not have this sort of high mortality be a recurring issue,” he said.

“We have a lot of evidence that these years come up every few years, and we also don’t know what each year’s going to bring with climate change. Things change, and each year we’re concerned that those (spike) years could be more common. Bears may stay out longer, and food sources could become more challenging.”

Lamb said that each community had the resources available to limit bear deaths – such as keeping trees picked, garbage secured and more.

“(The things we can do now) are voluntary options and we’re chipping away at making things better, but the door will never be fully shut until there’s more solid solutions.”

Some of those solutions were things like cost-share programs to improve livestock fencing, and remove and replace fruit trees.

While environmental factors beyond human control played a big part in how hungry bears were, and how desperate they were, Lamb said we had to take control of what we could.

“The landscape and weather patterns are something we don’t have any control over, so we need to make sure our attractants are secure and that our highways are safe.”

READ MORE: Off to bed: Elk Valley bear reports drop off
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