Human-bear conflicts have increased dramatically in the small coastal communities within the Bella Coola Valley this month, leaving residents and conservation officers scrambling to try and deal with the problem.
“Last year we didn’t even get a conflict call in July. So far this month we’ve had 50 conflict calls,” said Sgt. Jeff Tyre of the Conservation Officer Service (COS), Cariboo Chilcotin Zone.
Tyre confirmed officers already trapped and relocated a sow grizzly and her two cubs this week out of the valley that had been accessing food sources in residential areas.
Officers also put down an old boar grizzly earlier this month in poor condition, with abscesses in its mouth and an infected old wound, while members of the Nuxalk Nation shot two grizzly bears within the community of 4 Mile that they felt were posing a threat to humans.
Tyre wouldn’t comment further on the investigation into the death of two grizzly cubs on the Thorsten Road recently, which the COS said were killed by a vehicle. Residents have said the grizzlies were in fact struck multiple times in a deliberate act to kill the bears, but Tyre would not confirm those rumours.
He did, however, admit the growing conflict with bears in the valley is a divisive issue.
“It’s a very polarized community,” Tyre said, noting it would be “a lot of guessing” on his part to say what’s causing the sharp increase in bear conflicts.
Last year a man was mauled by a sow grizzly in what was later determined to be a defensive attack. The man had come out of his residence while the bear and her cubs were feeding on cherry trees in the yard. The man did recover but was hospitalized with bite wounds.
The cherry crop in the valley did come early this year, and the bears are accessing that food source as well as berries and “fish piles” from recent fish runs, a food source for locals, tourists and bears.
In an effort to address the concerns, the COS is running shifts of two to four officers in the valley who are working long hours during the peak times of conflict, which is from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Up until last year there hadn’t even been an COS officer stationed in the valley. Currently there is one conservation officer, Hana Anderson stationed there full-time.
Tyre admits finding the resources to man the valley is “a challenge” and they are pulling from across the province to make it happen.
Having the officers in the valley allows them to respond immediately to reports of conflict, where they have been trying numerous “adverse conditioning” methods to keep the bears away from the communities. These methods include hazing with rubber bullets, bean bags and cracker shells as well as relocating bears, as they did this week with the family unit.
“If necessary we will euthanize bears,” Tyre added.
The areas impacted the most by the human-bear conflicts have been within the Bella Coola townsite itself and the 4 Mile subdivision but there have also been complaints at Hagensborg.
Tyre said the role of COS is to prevent property destruction and to reduce the public safety risk for the public, who have been reception to making changes.
“There are lots of good things happening with attractant management,” Tyre said. “Residents are taking it upon themselves to pick their fruit. Socially and cultural we are slow making changes in a positive manner and we are continuing to move forward.”
Conflicts with humans and grizzly bears in the valley typically heat up in the late summer and fall when the salmon runs are in the creeks and rivers, and tourists flock to the area to view the bears.
Tyre said what that will look like this year will depend largely on what happens with the salmon runs.