More bear sightings in Campbell River might show their behaviour is changing due to development or the availability of more attractants — or that simply more people are looking for them.
The Facebook group C.R. Cougar and Bear Sightings boasts almost nine thousand members sharing photos, surveillance videos, and sighting accounts of bears and cougars in and around the city. Seemingly more and more sightings are posted every week.
The group was started around March 2015 by Bree Cerny, a Campbell River resident with three kids, as a way for residents to share sightings with safety in mind.
“At the time, my oldest was starting to walk to school on her own, and I started to think if they are on the way to school, how do I know if there are wild animals around? I was really fearful of it,” she said. “I’m from Victoria, so coming up here was kind of an awakening that we have a lot of cougars and bears in the area.”
The group proved popular right away.
“It kind of took off like wildfire for moms, I think because they were all thinking the same way,” she said. “Now, there are regular posts everyday, and people are still asking to join it.”
There have been some detractors to the group, who have expressed concern that bringing attention to urban wildlife could make it more likely conservation officers respond to them. But besides promoting community safety, Cerny said that people being aware of bears or cougars in their neighbourhood also helps those animals.
“The more we’re aware of where they are, the more we can leave them alone,” she said.
Lorna Deldon Burd, coordinator of the Campbell River chapter of Wild Wise, an organization devoted to reducing human-wildlife conflict, said the number of bear sightings shared in Campbell River does seem to be on the rise.
Numerous black bear sightings as of late despite winter conditions could be a troubling sign for the species, she said.
“They shouldn’t be around right now — there’s so much snow, and it’s cold,” she said. “They’re around because there’s enough garbage for them to keep feeding.”
This food source being available may stop bears from hibernating, meaning more are out and about.
According to Deldon Burd, the best posts on social media include knowledge-based information about reducing conflict. Important steps residents can take to reduce conflict include not putting garbage out until collection day, keeping garbage bins indoor, and managing other attractants, such as bird feeders.
“If people are more educated on how to deter or not attract wildlife, we will have less instances of conflict,” she said.
The question of whether there are more black bear present in Campbell River or if their behaviour has changed in recent years remains unanswered by science, said Lana Ciarniello, a bear biologist living in Campbell River.
Ciarniello, whose work focuses on grizzly bears on the mainland, says little is known about black bear population trends on Vancouver Island.
“There’s not really a lot of black bear research at all in this province,” she said. “We don’t know what the bear population is on the Island or how it’s doing.”
Development in and around Campbell River might be impacting how bears are using the landscape, said Ciarniello.
“The amount of land development that has gone on in just the last seven years or so is pretty astronomical,” she said. “I’m not sure how much consideration is given to wildlife or wildlife movement at all.”
Land clearing could affect both the number of bears in certain areas and their pattern of movement, she said.