Wake up call: Bears set to roll into Golden City with spring’s arrival

Rosslanders guilty of being too welcoming instead of being bear aware according to the city's Bear Aware coordinator.

Little cinnamon bear and a Rossland cyclist.

People in Rossland are known for their hospitality.

Always willing to open a door to stranger, welcome in a wayward traveller, or raise a glass with a new best friend, Rosslanders have a reputation as kind and generous folk.

But the same affinity for affability that has made Rosslanders renown is also the bane of a bruin’s existence when it comes to becoming bear aware.

Rosslanders are tolerant of having bears around, almost too tolerant, said Bear Aware community coordinator for Rossland, Sharon Wieder, and therein lies the rub.

In the past, bears have become so used to hanging around people in the Golden City they get used to getting food from people.

And that never ends well for the bear, she said. Last year in Rossland there were four bears destroyed, down from the 16 shot in 2010.

In Rossland people make the mistake of not making food available for the bears (see Attractants, below), don’t do anything to scare bears off, nor do they report bear sightings as soon as they can.

“They often wait until the bear becomes a problem before they call in,” said Wieder. “By then there are no proactive measures that we can do to get the bear to move on. Once they get into the habit of getting food from the people it’s almost impossible to get rid of that habit.”

Given enough time, Wieder and conservation officers can monitor bear activity in an area. If they see a lot of calls coming from a particular area of town, then they will go out and see what is going on and figure out what the bears are attracted to.

An “attraction audit” would be done on such an area to figure out why the bears were there, and steps would be taken to remedy the situation, said Wider. She said at this time of the year bears are typically attracted to bird seed that people have put out for the winter, as well as improperly composted material.

However, no matter how well neighbourhoods are bear proofed, the bruins will still come around, said Wieder. Wildlife trails have been used for centuries, she said, and Rossland is in the middle of prime bear territory. Bears don’t change their patterns, or their pathways, even if it goes right through the city.

Despite construction in Rossland last year—which resulted in the main street being torn up until late fall—construction workers and residents reported watching bears move through the torn up street and around the fencing and large equipment, following their usual travel patterns, said Wieder.

“The reality is where we live there are always going to be bears in Rossland,” Wieder said. “So the key is to make sure there is no food accessible for them, becasue they have to eat, that’s like their prime motivator. If there’s no food, they will move on.”

If not, the “problem” bears will be shot. The reality of relocating bears elsewhere is if they are removed—and they are bears that are used to feeding around people and getting people food—they will follow their noses back to that community or to a different community.

“And by dumping a bear off in the wilderness you are potentially dumping it off into another bear’s territory,” Wieder said. “The key is to keep the bear from being habituated in the first place.”

 

Attractants for bears

The most important step in controlling bear problems is careful management of bear attractants. Bears are motivated by hunger, not malice, meaning the problem lies with people, not bears. The following bear attractants should be managed to ensure bears don’t move into your neighbourhood.

Garbage

  • Store garbage in a secure building until collection day or consider purchasing a bear-resistant household container.
  • Ensure bins are tightly closed.
  • Regularly wash all recycling items and clean the bins that contain garbage or recycling.
  • Do not leave garbage in the back of a truck, even if it has a canopy.
  • If you cannot store garbage securely, freeze smelly items and add to the bin only on the morning of collection.

Fruit trees

  • Pick fruit and allow it to ripen indoors or pick daily as it ripens.
  • Do not allow windfall to accumulate on the ground.
  • If you do not want the fruit, prune the tree vigorously to prevent blossoms or spray spring blossoms with a garden hose to knock them off.
  • Consider using electric fencing to protect your fruit trees.

Bird feeders

  • Use bird feeders only in the winter when bears are hibernating and natural bird food is limited.
  • Use bird baths or native plants to attract birds without attracting bears.

Compost bins

  • The key to a healthy compost is ensuring equal amounts of brown and green materials.
  • Layer your greens, such as kitchen scraps and fresh grass clippings with no more than 10 cm of browns, such as dried leaves, grasses, shredded newspaper and cardboard.
  • Do not add fish, meat, fat, oils, un-rinsed eggshells or any cooked food.
  • Add oxygen by turning regularly.
  • Avoid overloading the compost in fruit season; freeze material and add gradually.
  • Avoid adding cereals or grains.

— From www.bearaware.bc.ca

 

Little cinnamon bear saga

The saga in Rossland of ‘little cinnamon bear’ (as she was dubbed) was a good example of how quickly a bear moves through the cycle of becoming habituated and food conditioned to being trapped and destroyed.

The ‘little cinnamon bear’ was first reported in early June. She was a mature female in poor condition and not an orphaned cub as many people believed, showing how easily people make false assumptions and become emotional about “their bears.”

She was most likely born near town, learned to forage in town and became quite used to being close to people. Residents commented she behaved much like a dog, wandering around town at all hours of the day and appearing very comfortable in close proximity to people.

She quickly learned to enter homes in search of food and was also regularly seen checking out campsites at the campground in Rossland.

Although she wasn’t aggressive, these behaviours ultimately led to her being trapped and destroyed in mid‐July.

From Rossland Trail Bear Aware Annual Report

 

Something’s bruin

The huckleberry crop is always a major factor in the number of bear sightings around the area.

The huckleberry crop of 2012 was approximately 75 per cent (as assessed by volunteers) of the bumper crop of 2009 and was ripe just slightly later than normal but was quickly consumed by a hot dry spell in July.

Other berries were abundant including saskatoon, dogwood, mountain ash and snowberry, which may have accounted for reduced bear reports in August. The cherry tree crop was average and bears were seen coming back to the ‘sun dried’ cherries on the trees later in the season.

Bear scat contained cherry pits well into late September. There was a poor crop for domestic fruit, such as apples and plums. This may have contributed to lower than average bear activity in Rossland in the fall months of 2012.

— From Rossland Trail Bear Aware Annual Report