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Sudbury's nuisance bear problem gets extra help from the province

The provincial government announced on Thursday it is doubling the amount of experts available in Sudbury, Ont., over the summer to help police respond to bear sightings.

'We need to make sure people are safe and that the bears are being treated appropriately'

Sudbury, Ont., is getting more bear technicians to respond to sightings and immobilize the animal if it shows signs of aggression. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Sudbury, Ont., is getting more support to deal with its long-standing nuisance bear issue.

The provincial government announced on Thursday it is doubling the number of experts working in the community this summer to respond to bear calls with police to relocate, trap and kill the animals if necessary.

The change means Sudbury will have four bear technicians in total — the most out of any district in the province.

"Let me clear, wildlife management is not a core function of policing," Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen said.

"We've been advocating for a long time that we need more bear techs in this area and we're encouraged to see that that resource is here."

It is also welcome news for Rachelle Niemela, who no longer feels comfortable biking in the evenings in her neighbourhood of New Sudbury.

"Coming around a corner and then there's three bears sitting in front of you. They're startled. You're startled. They hiss at you," Niemela said.

"The odds of something happening are pretty remote, but it does make your heart beat a little bit when you get into those types of situations."

Sudbury has most reported bear sightings in province

The animals also hang out at the baseball diamond a few meters away from a playground that her grandchildren use.

Niemela said she has to constantly survey the grounds.

"If the bears are here then I have to tell my grand kids, well, we're not playing here today. Sorry," Niemela said

"That's really not right."

Sudbury has the most reported bear sightings in Ontario, according to one of the province's Bear Wise education program managers Michael Cartan.

Two hundred sightings have already been reported in the city this year. 

The main attractants for bears, according to Cartan, are the abundance of blueberry bushes and green space.

'We still have the right as residents here to feel safe'

In 2016, the city's blueberry crop failed due to a drought.

As a result, the animals were pushed farther into the city's core in search of food. 

"I understand that we have impacted bears because of what we're doing and building in this area, and the food sources," Niemela said.

"But we still have the right as residents here to feel safe in our neighbourhood, and I think that's the biggest problem."

Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault said he keeps hearing stories similar to Niemela's of people having to change their lifestyles because they are worried about bears. 

"That's when I said we should be able to find ways to do something more," Thibeault said.

"Something to help the community so people can continue to live the lives that we like here in northern Ontario. Walking our dogs, going for hikes, all the things that we always do," he continued.
Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault said people are changing their lifestyles because they are afraid of bears. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"At the same time, we need to make sure people are safe and that the bears are being treated appropriately."

'We can't get complacent'

In addition to hiring more bear technicians, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will be increasing its outreach activities in Sudbury to try to reduce the number of bear attractants. 

Niemela's city councillor Al Sizer has dealt with so many bear issues in New Sudbury that he said he has become known as the "bear councillor."

"We can't get complacent," Sizer said.

"Every single person in our community needs to do their part and practice being bear wise. This has to be a community-wide effort. We all need to be accountable."

What to do when you see a bear

The provincial government is encouraging residents to:

  • Store garbage securely and only put out garbage on the morning of collection.
  • Clean food residue and remove grease from outdoor barbecue grills after each use.
  • Put away bird feeders until winter.
  • Keep pet food inside.
  • Pick ripe fruit from trees and off the ground.

If a bear poses an immediate threat to public safety, the provincial government encourages people to call 911.

Emergencies include a bear entering a school yard, trying to enter a residence, wandering into a public gathering, killing livestock and pets or stalking people and lingering at a site.

For non-emergencies, the province's Bear Wise reporting line is available toll-free 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-514-2327 from April 1 until the end of November. 

Instances where provincial officials encourage the bear reporting line's use include a bear in a tree, pulling down a bird feeder or knocking over a barbecue, moving through a backyard or field without lingering and breaking into a shed where garbage or food is stored.

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a network reporter for CBC News based in Toronto. She previously worked in Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter @CBCOlivia. Send story ideas to olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.