Three adult bears and two cubs have been put down within four days in the Comox Valley, and conservation officers are asking the public to become extra diligent with open garbage and fruit trees.
Provincial Conservation Officer James Hilgemann said a 500-plus pound male bear was put down Monday morning in Cumberland, and a sow later that evening near Third Street and Maryport Avenue.
The sow had two cubs in a tree nearby, and they were subsequently put down Tuesday morning.
“We get frustrated … because people say ‘why are you shooting the family? Can’t you just trap them and relocate them?’ Relocation does not work on conditioned bears.”
He said it’s a similar situation playing out in many towns across the province.
“(Bears get) conditioned to garbage. We had video of them feeding on garbage an hour earlier … I know there’s solutions but it takes everybody to get involved. It takes one bad neighbour who doesn’t pick fruit or leaves the garbage out and a bear happens upon it and it starts that cycle.”
Hilgemann credited a “perfect storm” as to a reason why bears are coming closer to populated areas. He noted the warm summer weather, a drought with low rivers, an early berry crop and bountiful fruit growing within town limits as to why bears will turn to urban food sources.
“They settle in and they aren’t leaving. These bears that we’re trapping and destroying, they don’t even look like bears; they have beady eyes and are round – they are so well fed. They are really bulking up like super-sized bears.”
Some of the bears he’s seen have two inches of blubber around them, a sign they are eating artificial food sources and high-calorie food such as nuts, he said.
A bear near Fifth Street and McPhee Avenue in Courtenay Saturday which had to be destroyed was so accustomed to people Hilgemann noted it was completely indifferent to human presence. The bear walked down the sidewalk approximately 10 feet away from two passerby, he added.
“I made them stop, put the lights on (my truck), but it’s just an accident waiting to happen.”
In Cumberland, once the two cubs were eventually trapped, Hilgemann explained he ran his observations of their condition past the provincial veterinarian, as there is criteria for rehabilitating cubs.
If they are good candidates, he noted, they are sent to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington. Because the cubs were eating out of garbage, the vet recommended they be put down.
“There’s a simple solution – be responsible for your garbage, pick your fruit ASAP, and save a bear’s life and protect your neighbours. People are putting the bears up for failure and putting their neighbours at risk. It’s just a matter of time until someone is going to have an encounter,” he added, and said he would like to see municipalities increase garbage pickup frequency, and more bylaws for enforcement for picking fruit trees.
“If you have a fruit tree you’re bound to pick that fruit. It might not be totally right, but cut it down if you’re not going to eat your fruit, or get someone to pick it for you, but don’t leave it hanging.”
Currently, he said there is a three-legged bear in Cumberland, missing a hind leg. While the bear is mobile, it is accessing garbage due to its condition, and Hilgemann added it will become an issue.
“It’s a people problem, not a bear problem.”
– With files from Scott Stanfield