British Columbia

Number of bear incidents likely to be 'very high' this year, say conservation officers

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service says bear incidents are already one-third higher compared to the same time last year.

64 bears have been destroyed so far in the Lower Mainland compared to 68 in all of 2018

A black bear sow and cubs in Metro Vancouver. (Maja Lakhani)

If you think stories about bear incidents across the province have been popping up in your news feed with increased frequency lately, you are not imagining things.

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service says the number of bear incidents is already one-third higher compared to the same time last year. 

"We're busier than last year by quite a bit," said Murray Smith, a conservation officer in the Lower Mainland. "There is a very good chance that we're going to have very high numbers this year."

So far this year, 64 bears have been destroyed in the Lower Mainland compared to 68 in all of 2018. 

Across the province, numbers have also seen an increase, with a total of 305 black bears destroyed so far this year compared to 195 during the same time last year. 

The destruction of bears has caused issues in some communities, including a neighbourhood in Coquitlam where three people were charged for allegedly obstructing a conservation officer who had been called to search for a family of black bears. 

But Smith says the onus is on the public. 

"We're not the ones who bring the bears into the communities and we're not the ones who ... have unsecured attractants in the neighbourhood," he added. "I don't know how we can blame the conservation officers."

The number of bear calls is also high, with 3,400 reports to date compared to 4,500 in all of last year.

Numbers will only get higher

And the numbers will likely only continue to rise, Smith adds, noting fall is when bears are the most active.

"Fall is the busiest time for conflict between people and bears because the bears are in a mad panic to put on weight in order to go into the den," he said. 

The number of bears that have been relocated or sent to rehabilitation in the Lower Mainland so far has already exceeded last year's total. 

Smith says many things could contribute to a spike in numbers, including a peak in bear population or a late spring, which he says can affect the amount of food available for bears when they come out of hibernation.

He said people can help lower the number of incidents by making sure they call right away whenever they encounter a problematic bear. If people wait to call, bears can become habituated to the point of no return, Smith added. 

"We wouldn't have to do any of this if the public ensured that their attractants were controlled and managed properly and secured," he said. 

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