A Conservation Officer is not happy he had to shoot a black bear in Willow Point yesterday afternoon.
“It’s extremely disheartening,” Conservation Officer (CO) Steve Petrovcic said. “It’s one of those necessary evils that has to be done when the bear exhibits that behaviour.”
The bear had been frequenting the Penfield School area in Willow Point for the last two weeks. There had been numerous sightings by parents around the school and students had been on “lock down” a few times to avoid an encounter when the bear was in the area.
Petrovcic also said that, unfortunately, not all the residents in the area had been utilizing best “bear aware” practices. On tours around the neighbourhood, he frequently saw garbage cans set out the night before pick up day, garbage on property and fruit hanging from trees or scattered on the ground and not picked up.
It’s particularly disappointing to have to destroy a bear, Petrovcic said, when these situations can be avoided.
“When we have people in the community working with us and doing their part, the number of incidences like this are significantly reduced,” he said.
But all it takes is one person on a street not cleaning up bear attractants to undo all the good work everybody else is doing.
Conservation Officers were notified that the bear had been observed in the Penfield School area again on Tuesday afternoon. It disappeared into a nearby greenspace before being spotted crossing Hilchey heading north, Petrovcic said. It then wandered over to a nearby catchment pond north of Hilchey Road and west of Penfield where it was shot. Residents on social media reported hearing the shots.
“At that point, based on the history we’d received on this particular bear, it had been seen hanging out close to the school for almost two weeks now,” Petrovcic said. “The school’s had numerous times (where it) more or less had the school almost on lock down, no kids permitted into the playing field and like I say, just numerous sightings right close to the school – reports of this bear in numerous yards and, unfortunately, accessing fruit trees and other unnatural food attractants like garbage.
“It was determined that this bear was not a relocation candidate and that this bear would be destroyed.”
This isn’t the only bear in town COs are aware of. There is a second bear currently hanging around the Phoenix School area and a report of another in the vicinity of the Ecole des Deux Mondes School at the west end of 7th Avenue.
Petrovcic said Conservation Officers are emphasizing an educational approach in trying to deal with these kinds of situations. The province has had “bear awareness” programs in place for years and earlier this month the Conservation Officer Service issued a plea to homeowners to do what they can to help reduce bear-human conflicts.
There had been a noticeable increase in human-wildlife conflict reports from all all over Vancouver Island, specifically dealing with black bears in high density residential areas accessing an abundance of unpicked fruit in back yards.
“Our urban calls for service have definitely gone up in the last 2-3 weeks,” Petrovcic said.
Petrovcic said if people are not complying with measures to reduce wildlife conflicts, the COs do have the authority to charge people and issue tickets that can result in fines up to $575.
“We really would like the support of the community and have everyone secure their attractants,” Pterovcic said. “If they don’t have any intention of using the fruit that’s on their tree, have the fruit picked and removed. Don’t leave the picked fruit outside so the bears can find it and still get rewarded.”
The CO service requests that people report sightings of bears and wildlife to their 24-hour call centre (1-877-952-7277). There’s frequently information circulated on social media – Campbell River has a Facebook page dedicated to cougar and bear sightings – but Petrovcic said COs don’t have time to be on social media all day and so will not become informed through that route. The public needs to call in.
Bears are instinctually loading up on calories right now in preparation for winter hibernation and they’ll target easily-accessible food.
There are many factors at play here. With the natural berry crops ending, along with a poor return of salmon and lower-than-normal water flows in some Island rivers this year, bears began coming into communities in search of food. They are being rewarded with an abundance of fruit, primarily apples, plums, and pears. The bears will not leave town if they continue to have access to such a nutrient rich, high calorie food source. The bears are binge eating and preparing for hibernation in a couple months’ time.
By not being responsible and picking all fruit from trees, homeowners are placing themselves, as well as their neighbours, in harm’s way.
Ways homeowners can help:
- Be a good neighbour and pick your fruit as soon as possible.
- Assist neighbours who may be unable to pick their fruit.
- Consider removing fruit trees if you find that you are not using the fruit.
- Pick fruit and donate it to your local food bank.
- Remind neighbours who may be unaware of what they are doing and the risks they are creating.
The longer that the bears remain in town, the less fear they have for humans. These bears will eventually become habituated and associate humans with a food source. Habituated bears are dangerous bears. When the fruit crop ends, and the bears are still in town, they will turn to garbage as food source.
“It’s extremely disappointing for a Conservation Officer having to attend and destroy an animal that, essentially the public has influenced its behaviour,” Petrovcic said.
Bear strolls across the yard of a Willow Point home. Photo by Seever Rondquist