Stop feeding and gawking at roadside bears, Yukon groups urge

'People are taking it upon themselves to try and get those bears closer, and usually that's enticing them with a sandwich or a piece of fruit,' said one conservation officer. A new campaign has a simple message: 'respect our bears.'

'What I've seen is bears on the side of the road eating discarded sandwiches and cut up bananas'

A still from a video posted online, showing a Yukon bear enjoying something he didn't have to forage for. 'Threw this beautiful creature a fresh Red Delicious Apple,' the post reads, along with '#yukon #adventureisoutthere #offthecouch #ontheroad.' (Instagram)

It's not unusual to see bears along the South Klondike Highway in Yukon, nor is it unusual to see a car, or two, or three, pulled off on the shoulder, taking pictures of those bears.

Occasionally, people are even tossing them snacks.

A new education campaign involves pamphlets, road signs and one-on-one education for visitors and tourists. (CBC)

That has to stop, according to a number of local organizations and groups that have teamed up on a new initiative. They'll be putting up road signs and handing out pamphlets this summer, urging people to "respect our bears."

"This is such a heavy tourist corridor in the summer, and people really love to see bears," said Heather Ashthorn of Wildwise Yukon, a local non-profit that's involved in the campaign.

"We have heard from some of our other outreach initiatives over the last couple of summers... that there is a problem with the human-bear system in this area, and a lot of it is due to food conditioning," she said.

"Probably a lot of that behaviour comes from innocence and ignorance, but is quite destructive along the way."

Sandwiches and bananas

Jeff Piwek, a B.C. conservation officer, has seen all kinds of troublesome behaviour. Part of the South Klondike Highway runs through B.C., and the province has signed on to the new initiative.

"Sometimes the bears... might go away from a vehicle. So people are taking it upon themselves to try and get those bears closer, and usually that's enticing them with a sandwich or a piece of fruit or other foods," he said.

"What I've seen is bears on the side of the road eating discarded sandwiches and cut up bananas — all these non-natural foods."

When bears become accustomed to seeing humans, 'it often can lead to conflict,' says Yukon conservation officer Ken Knutson. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Yukon conservation officer Ken Knutson agrees it's become a big and worrisome problem. When people stop to feed or photograph bears, the animals "get used to you, and it often can lead to conflict," he said.

Knutson says he just saw a video posted online by someone who had tossed an apple to a Yukon bear. The bear is seen, at close range, happily munching on the red delicious.

"We don't know where that happened, but as soon as that starts to happen that bear associates people with food and starts to approach them — and that's when the situation can become dangerous."

A family of black bears spotted along Yukon's South Klondike Highway. Bears are a common sight in the area, but visitors are being asked to resist the urge to stop and watch. (CBC)

'More than your typical bear education'

The Carcross Tagish First Nation [CTFN] is also involved in the new initiative. Pamphlets advise visitors that they are on the First Nation's traditional territory and "we value the bears that live here."

Besides the pamphlets, the First Nation will also be doing outreach programs with visitors and tourists, to help them understand that bears are not just part of the scenery.

'This is more than your typical bear education, it gets more in-depth,' said Tami Grantham, a biologist with the Carcross Tagish First Nation. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

"In a First Nation culture, the bear is like a brother or a sister — and so we respect it as we would our brothers and sisters," said Tami Grantham, a biologist with the CTFN. 

"So that's just some of the different world views that are trying to be portrayed and relayed to the visitors who might not otherwise realize that those kinds of relationships exist.

"That's what I think is really exciting for us — this is more than your typical bear education, it gets more in-depth." 

Heather Ashthorn of Wildwise is also excited to see the new campaign take shape.

"This is the first time that I've seen us come together with a whole group of agencies that are absolutely on the same page about the message," she said.

Road signs reading "Do Not Stop For Bear Viewing" and "A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear" will be going up along the highway soon, between Carcross, Yukon and the U.S. border at Fraser.

"Our intent is to go out and help educate people about bear behaviour, and the risks to the whole community," Ashthorn said. 

The South Klondike Highway, at Carcross. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

With files from Cheryl Kawaja


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