Dumpster-diving Burnaby black bears worry conservation officers

Bears will have to be killed if they become fully habituated, conservation officer says.

Bears will have to be killed if they become fully habituated, conservation officer says

A bear eating garbage from a dumpster in the Forest Grove neighbourhood of Burnaby. The bear's mother was close by and the two have been seen in the neighbourhood several times since. (John Verster)

Rob Stocker was walking his dog Luna down a trail just metres away from his Burnaby Mountain townhouse when his dog's ears perked up at the sound of ruffling in the woods.

"We heard some loud crunching through bushes — and we look up, and there's this black bear!" said Stocker. 

"I kind of gave him a yell to tell him that we're here, and he looked at us and said 'Okay, I'm gonna carry on.'"

Stocker isn't the only one who's had a run-in with black bears trouncing through the neighbourhood.

Since April, B.C.'s Conservation Officer Service has gotten nearly 150 complaints of bears in Burnaby, B.C. — the vast majority being sighted in the Burnaby Mountain area.

Luna was on a walk with her owner, Rob Stocker, when the two of them watched a bear cross through the path near Gaglardi Way in Burnaby, B.C. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"It appears like we may have a family unit out there that may be being sighted," said conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter, adding there's been 13 complaints lodged from the neighbourhood in the last two days.

"People are seeing these two young black bears going through garbage bins and dumpsters."

Hunter says readily available food scraps are what's attracting the bears — and if the bears become fully habituated, they will have to be killed.

Schools and daycare

The bulk of the incidents have occurred in the side-by-side neighbourhoods of Forest Grove and Ash Grove. 

The bears' proximity to a daycare and local elementary school have some residents particularly concerned.

Casey Lo, 12, attends Forest Grove Elementary School, where she says students have been asked to take precautions.

"We have to stay inside at lunch lately because there's been a lot of bear sightings," she said. "It's been hard."

"We've been told to go home in groups," her friend and classmate Mia Kyriacou added.

Seventh-graders Casey Lo and Mia Kyriacou say they've been encouraged to take precautions to avoid run-ins with bears. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Unsecured food waste

Bear-resistant waste bins are common across several townhouse complexes in the area.

But Hunter says many residents continue to use unsecured food waste bins, which are drawing bears in after a long winter.

"There's not a lot of natural food out there, and they're looking for high calories," he said. "They're designed by nature to bust into things."

Hunter says the conservation office has been working with the City of Burnaby to establish bylaws that would impose specific garbage pick up times in order to minimize conflicts — but nothing has come to fruition yet.

He says they're also pushing for bear-resistant garbage and food waste bins to be delivered to frequented neighbourhoods.

In 2013, a black bear found in a Burnaby tree had to be tranquilized and was caught in a tarp held by officers on the ground.

In the meantime, he warns that some residents need to take greater responsibility enclosing their waste, and that fines will be levied — up to several thousand dollars for multiple offences — if officers find food scraps out in the open.

He says bears that become fully reliant on the waste as a food source cannot be introduced back into the wild, and will likely have to be killed.

"There's nothing worse. We got into this job for protecting the environment. But sometimes, we have to protect people from the wildlife," he said.