British Columbia

Give black bears lots of personal space as they prepare for hibernation, conservationist says

Bear conservationists are asking people to give black bears lots of space, as they feed on whatever they can before they hibernate for the winter.

People are putting bears in danger by getting too close to them

A black bear cub forages for food along a stream. (Becky Bohrer/AP Photo)

Bear conservationists on Metro Vancouver's North Shore are again asking people to give black bears lots of space as they feed on whatever they can before they hibernate for the winter. 

Luci Cadman, the executive director of the North Shore Black Bear Society, says this is a sensitive time of year for the wild animals. 

"We're asking people to give our bears lots of personal space and respect," Cadman told guest host Margaret Gallagher on CBC's On The Coast. 

"We understand that many people really love to see our wildlife moving through the community but we must respect their personal space because very often there are subtle signs of stress that are misinterpreted as aggressive behaviour."

Typically black bears in the area eat salmon, berries, seeds and nuts and bugs during the fall months. 

But after a tough summer where the June heat wave destroyed some of the natural sources of food for the bears, there's additional pressure on them this fall to get enough to eat to fatten up for their long winter sleep. Elsewhere in B.C., the Resort Municipality of Whistler shut down trails earlier this month to allow grizzly bears in the area uninterrupted time to make their winter hibernation preparations. 

Cadman says her group is worried bears will be lured by the smell of non-natural food sources closer to town. 

"Garbage and organics are the strongest bear attractants and certainly when bears find food sources like that, they're going to eat absolutely anything that smells good to them ...  Bears will eat plastic, they will eat foil so their body becomes full of this horrible plastic which certainly isn't good for them," she said. 

She says in addition to giving a wide berth to the bears, residents should take care to dispose of garbage properly and carefully manage or remove other attractants like fallen fruit from fruit trees, bird feeders and other food sources.

Be loud, leash your dogs

If you're hiking or biking through the North Shore's extensive trail systems, Cadman says, talk loudly so the bears know to avoid you.

"To reduce the risk of bumping into a bear at close range, you want to be making noise with your voice. Bear bells are not effective. They don't identify you as a person and the sound is quiet and doesn't travel very far," she said. 

 She said it's important to be louder than normal as the bears are so focused on feeding this time of year. 

Dogs, she adds, should be leashed to avoid trouble.

"Bears and dogs do not get along. We've seen situations on the North Shore where a mother and cubs have been fishing and the pressure from off-leash dogs actually forced the cub to drop the fish and run away from mom. It has an impact on valuable teaching time," she said. 

While Cadman doesn't have an exact estimate for how many black bears live on the North Shore, she said B.C. is home to around 120,000 to 150,000 black bears. 

With files from On The Coast