Rossland’s bear population seems to have gone up quite a bit recently as the hungry animals make their way into town on the search for easy food.
Sharon Wieder, Bear Aware community co-ordinator for Rossland and Trail, said each year the message is the same:
“We’re going to have bears in the community because of where we live, there’s nothing we can do about that,” Wieder said, adding that the best way to keep bears moving along is to manage the attractants that get them to stay.
“They’ll pass through on there own and if there’s nothing for the bears to eat, they will just keep going through.”
The big attractant in the area is garbage, followed by the abundant fruit trees in the fall.
“Some people just seem to think it’s okay to let the bears hang around and feed on the fruit trees but it’s not good,” she said.
So far, people in the area have been lucky with bears – There haven’t been many times when a bear has injured a person, which can cause people to get complacent about bears.
“The problem is that the bears usually end up having to be destroyed, because the garbage eating behavior cannot be unlearned,” she said.
“If they start hanging around town and getting used to being around people then they become human habituated and they lose their fear of people and because they’re so driven by their nose and their need to eat that once they lose their fear of people, they let there noses lead them into places.”
She added that if a bear goes inside a building and then gets panicked, it will destroy the place. So she really tries to convince people to be more conscious about their garbage.
“I know people get kind of tired of hearing it, but that’s the reality,” she said.
“As a community we need to get together to make sure the bears don’t get in trouble and if that means getting together and putting a little pressure on the neighbour that is leaving garbage out or not picking their fruit, then maybe getting a neighbourhood group together could help.”
She said having garbage out isn’t fair to “the guy who has kids down the road that have to walk to school,’ because of the danger it puts the kids in.
Though she admits Rosslanders are a bit blase about the bears which she said is fine as long as they don’t let the bears hang around.
Wieder also recently attended a West Kootenay bear conflict working group. The meeting was the first time that something like that is in the area. There, co-ordinators of other bear programs, conservation officers, wildlife biologists, municipal city staff and others met to talk about ways to pool resources to lessen the bears getting shot and destroyed.
“It was encouraging to see that many people could come together,” she said. ”One of the ideas that came out of it is to be a little more proactive and meet with people in the community, like bring in a bear expert, get the community engaged and motivated to have more respect for the bears.”
Other ideas were to get communities certified bear smart, not putting new developments on bear trails and reducing conflict, not contact.
She said the bear population is growing, both for black bears and grizzly bears.
“Rossland right now doesn’t have grizzly bears that show up, there are a few, but not many,” though she said that they may start to show as the population increase.
She also said that when a bear needs to be shot the conservation officer is seen as the bad guy.
“The reality is that black bears just get shot. Once the bears are used to people you can’t break them from that,” she said.
“Most people tend to wait until the bear is in trouble and needs to be shot.
Wieder said it comes down to being proactive. If you call the RAPP line the CO won’t automatically shoot them unless it is a problem bear. That number is 1-877-952-7277. You can also fill out a form online here.
Wieder said that she would like to get in and do presentations for more school groups and special interest groups in the community.
The Bear Aware education program has been running here since 1998, and the website www.bearaware.bc.ca has a new feature that lets you track reported bear sightings.
The sites where bears were spotted are also coded to tell you whether the bear was attracted to something.
Bear Aware was also grateful to again to get funding from the Columbia Basin Trust, the province and the city.