A bear and her cub seen near Fernie in late Fall 2020. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

A bear and her cub seen near Fernie in late Fall 2020. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Managing attractants ‘crucial’ for bear co-existence during bulking season: Wildsafe

Wildsafe BC Elk Valley coordinator on managing attractants leading up to hibernation

As the air begins to cool and fall approaches, the potential for human-bear conflicts increases.

Andrea Fletcher, WildSafe BC’s Elk Valley coordinator, said that bears can be found everywhere at this time of year.

“Anywhere there is a food source, there is a possibility of finding a bear, but in the fall, we do often see a rise in human bear conflicts around residential areas,” she wrote to The Free Press.

Part of the reason is that most residential fruit and berry trees begin to ripen around this time of year, which substantially increases available food sources within town limits.

“The only thing that really changes at this time of year is that fruit tree management is now also a focus.”

Bears are entering their winter bulking phase, Fletcher said, and aim to eat around 20,000 calories per day.

“This makes unmanaged fruit trees (1000 crabapples = 20,000 calories), bird feeders (2.5 kg = 20,000 calories), livestock, and garbage very desirable for bears at this time of year.”

Managing or removing attractants from neighbourhoods will lead to drastically less conflict, she said.

Fletcher recommends picking fruit before or as soon as they ripen, cleaning up windfall quickly, pruning trees to a manageable size, and considering electric fencing.

“If you can no longer manage your tree or do not use the fruit, consider replacing it with something non-fruit bearing.”

Bird feeders, barbecues, compost, and pet food are also recommended by Fletcher to be cleaned and secured properly all season.

“Unfortunately… there have been quite a few bears that have been accessing garbage within town limits this year, and this often leads to conflict, and eventually, tragic outcomes.”

She said there have been instances of black bears becoming defensive over garbage in Elkford, which she called a dangerous situation.

She said people who do not have certified bear resistant containers “must store their garbage indoors or in a secure shed or garage until collection day, or, take your garbage to one of the nearby free transfer stations.”

Increased vigilance about attractant management is important until at least November, she said, as bears typically enter the den in late fall or early winter. However, various factors could lead to later, shorter, or no hibernation.

Four workshops on bear safety and electric fencing were held the week of Aug. 15 by Gillian Sanders of Grizzly Bear Solutions, and promoted by local Wildsafe.

Attendance was varied, according to Fletcher, “but every single person who attended seemed engaged and seemed to learn a lot, so overall we were very happy with the turnout.”

She said Sanders may return in the coming months for more workshops.

Fletcher said that, while conflicts with bears have a tendency to increase in the fall, the Elk Valley is bear country, and bear awareness should be an integral part of peoples’ lives.

“Knowing how to avoid a bear encounter, how to react should you have one, and how to manage your attractants around the home is crucial to coexisting on this landscape with our native bears.”