As Comox Valley residents are turning their thoughts to spring, Frank Ritcey is hoping residents will also think about what’s roaming in nearby forests.
Ritcey is the provincial co-ordinator for WildSafeBC, a program designed to reduce human-wildlife conflict through education, innovation and co-operation.
He said now is the time to think about animals — particularly bears — coming out of hibernation.
“By March (sightings) usually pick up … and depending if the berry crop fails or the grass doesn’t grow, bears will come looking for food, and it’s up to us to make sure they don’t have their first meal in town,” he explained.
Bear sightings have been reported throughout the Valley, particularly in Cumberland, where interactions between bears and humans have been known to occur regularly during summer months.
Village resident Pamela Tessmann recalls two years ago being woken up by a bear rummaging through garbage in the middle of the night.
“(My husband) and I were in bed sleeping … and we woke up to the sound of garbage being knocked over outside our house. It was a bear eating the neighbour’s garbage. He was able to drag a can across the street,” she explained.
Her husband Carl, who regularly uses the trails in the nearby forest, grabbed his bear banger and aimed it at the bear, Tessmann added.
“One time when Carl was running, he saw a momma bear shoot out right beside him. It stopped and went on its hind legs and started woofing. He took out his bear banger and noticed a cub coming right behind him.”
Tessmann said she’s noticed the amount of bear sightings drop within the village in the last few years, and credits it to residents taking better care and protection of their garbage.
In order to minimize the number of conflicts with bears, Ritcey recommends ensuring residents properly maintain their garbage in secure, closed bins, and be extra diligent with bird feeders.
“Make sure to clean around feeders and not put a lot of feed out; it has a lot of calories and bears do target them.”
He also suggests to keep an eye out for pets and their food, to maintain and manage fruit trees along with barbecues — Ritcey said it’s best to burn off any drippings at high temperatures.
While on the trails, he said bear attacks are often precipitated by off-leash dogs, and added it’s best to keep dogs close and on-leash.
As for self-defence, he said bear spray, while not 100 per cent guaranteed, is good protection while outdoors.
“You can buy it in most outdoor stores, but make sure to get a proper canister to transport it. Also, it’s important to get a quick release; to have it in your backpack is virtually no good.”
While it’s too early to tell what the season may bring, Ritcey encourages anyone who sees a bear to call the 24-hour reporting line at 1-877-952-7277. WildSafeBC also manages an interactive map through the Wildlife Alert Reporting Program (W.A.R.P.) which displays human/wildlife interactions throughout the province. Visit wildsafebc.com/warp for more information.