Quesnel is getting its bearings like never in recent memory. Not the good kind. Grizzlies and blacks are encroaching into human areas in noticeable fashion, and if the humans aren’t on their best cleanliness behaviour, suffering could be the result.
“I absolutely hate to euthanize bears. I became a C.O. to catch poachers, not kill animals just doing their thing,” said Kyle Beuckert, a conservation officer stationed in Quesnel. “Human-wildlife conflicts are a serious issue. Many bears are unfortunately put down, and that’s often because of mismanaged attractants like garbage or fruit trees. It’s frustrating for a C.O. because these are things that can usually be handled better in the first place, by people.”
To be clear, said Beuckert, the Conservation Officer Service will not come shoot a bear just because it’s in someone’s neighbourhood. They will almost never kill a bear even if it’s rifled through a garbage can or clambered around for apples, stealing pet food off the porch, licking an unscrubbed barbecue like a grillcicle, or marauding birdfeeders. They typically have to be habituated to bad behaviour, and/or showing aggression towards people. Essentially, that comes from becoming addicted to easy human food.
This conversation often happens in fall when bears enter their aphasia stage, in fall, as they gobble aggressively to pack on the energy for hibernation. It is unusual and alarming that bears are on the prowl for urban food sources in such numbers and in such early days of summer.
So far, Quesnel’s C.O. have received 196 black bear calls and three grizzly calls. It’s happening so frequently that they can’t keep up with returning all the calls, as they focus on the priority situations.
Luckily, only seven bears have been euthanized, so far, but with the aphasia stage on the horizon, and the reasons for the influx only getting worse, conservation officers across the region are worried.
Wildfires are pushing bears out of their usual habitat into towns and cities.
The winter snow and ice conditions, coupled with the pace of the spring freshet, caused the ground to be drier than usual once the runoff occurred.
And then there was precious little rain to nourish the flora of the wilderness, and sun-blocking smoke to disrupt the usual growth of just about everything edible out in the fields and forests.
The end result is, a bear’s pantry is just about empty.
“Their whole life revolves around calories and mating,” said Beuckert. “We are headed into calorie time. They are actively looking for anything that can contribute to their intake. It has been a bad year in the bush for berries. The wilderness isn’t providing much for food sources.”
Reducing bear conflicts in Quesnel
The City of Quesnel issued a statement about the influx of bears, and how people are the ones expected to adapt, in order to prevent injuries and death.
“How we manage our living space has a great deal of influence on the number of bears in our neighbourhoods,” said the statement from City Hall. “Garbage and fruit trees remain the top attractions to bears in the Quesnel area. A bear that is positively reinforced by food is likely to return to that area and repeat its behaviour, eventually becoming food conditioned. If bears are not receiving a readily available food reward within communities, the need for animal destruction will be reduced.”
Ensure you take these steps to reduce bear conflict:
• Do not store garbage outdoors. Garbage can be kept inside a garage or shed if it’s bear proof. Odorous garbage can be kept inside a plastic bag and frozen until garbage day.
• Remove all fruit from the trees in your yard. Fruit can be stored indoors while it ripens. Let friends or neighbours pick your fruit if you are not going to use it. Determine if the fruit trees are necessary or if they are still wanted, if they aren’t, replace trees with non-fruit bearing species.
• Birdseed or suet filled bird feeders will attract bears through the odours they emit. Birdseed and suet are high protein food source for bears. Use bird feeders only in the winter when bears are hibernating, and natural bird food is limited.
Bylaw Enforcement will be monitoring areas throughout the City ensuring steps are being taken to remove the above attractants. Through Bylaw No. 1774 Solid Waste Collection And Disposal, no person shall set out their garbage collection carts other than between the times of 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. on collection days ($50 fine).
If you encounter a bear, remain calm. Slowly back away, talking to the bear in a quiet, monotone voice. Report aggressive or threatening bears to: 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP).