Bear conflicts on the rise throughout B.C.

Ministry of Environment no longer considers translocation a viable option

File photo                                Bear conflicts are on the rise but relocating them is no longer viewed as a viable option.

File photo Bear conflicts are on the rise but relocating them is no longer viewed as a viable option.

There has been a significant increase in the number of black bear conflict reports in British Columbia this time compared to last year.

Chris Doyle, the deputy chief with B.C. Conservation Officer Services, said black bear-related calls have nearly doubled this year over last year in the province. He said 8,900 black bear conflict reports have been issued to the COS since April 1, compared to 4,900 in the same time last year.

Doyle said many of the conflicts between humans and bears are preventable. Conflicts typically occur when bears become habituated to human habitats or food.

“The COS would like to remind the public to secure attractants such as garbage and fruit that might attract bears, and also, a reminder that it’s an offence under the B.C. Wildlife Act to feed or attract dangerous wildlife,” he said.

Doyle said the main reason for the dramatic increase in bear conflict reports this year is the decreased natural food supply of bears.

“This year, having experienced a colder, wet spring, it’s likely some of their natural food was delayed in ripening. That brought some of those bears into conflict [with humans],” he said.

The increase in bear/human conflicts comes almost a year after the provincial government updated its policy for dealing with wild animals that come into conflict with humans. The Ministry of Environment’s policy update removed long-distance translocation of a wild animal— trapping, moving and releasing — as a preferred method of deterring them from human interaction.

Doyle said conservation officers only use translocation under certain circumstances. The COS has only translocated two black bears since April 2017, according to the department’s statistics.

“Translocation is not viewed as a successful outcome for human/wildlife conflict,” said Doyle. “In general, what we see is that the bears will return from translocation or they may not survive in the location they’re taken to. It’s something we use very seldom.”

Instead of translocation, conservation officers should use various aversion methods on wild animals to promote negative associations with humans. These include hazing, rubber bullets, electric shock and foul-tasting chemicals, among other ways.

However, if those techniques are not effective the animal can be put down, in compliance with the B.C. Wildlife Act.

“It’s not something a CO wants to do,” said Doyle, referring to bears being put down. “It’s certainly something we work hard at trying to prevent. But when a bear is destroyed it’s ultimately because a bear has become habituated to a different food condition and is a risk to public safety, causing property damage and also maybe predatory toward livestock or domestic animals.”

The Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals is a wildlife advocacy group in B.C. Also known as the “Fur Bearers,” the association’s executive director Lesley Fox says that putting down bears should only be considered as a last resort by conservation officers.