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Help keep bears out of harm’s way in the Kootenays

BC Wildsafe Boundary offers tips and information on avoiding bear encounters
Bears are preparing for winter denning by looking for food wherever they can, but people can help stop them from scavenging in human-settled areas with a few precautions. Photo: Pete Nuji/ Unsplash

As bears prepare to hibernate everyone can help prevent them from coming into contact with humans, their pets and our food and garbage.

Bears lose around 30 per cent of their body weight when they are denning. During this period, typically ranging from November until April, bears will not eat, drink, urinate or defecate while in their dens. They become lethargic and their heart rate drops to about 10 beats per minute. Their body temperature lowers by about three degrees.

In preparation for winter denning, bears will enter a phase called hyperphagia, which begins in late August and lasts until November. Hyperphagia creates an extreme urge to eat food, and bears may consume over 20,000 calories daily. Bears will be foraging day and night, sometimes for over 17 hours.

Bears accessing human-supplied calories (attractants like garbage or unmaintained fruit trees) may linger in our communities. Bears that are highly food motivated and have accessed garbage or other attractants may become more persistent, leading to property damage, conflicts with pets, and vehicle collisions.

There is always a public safety risk if a bear is surprised or confined. We do not want bears to receive a food reward for coming into neighbourhoods and closer to homes. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and can be attracted to odours from garbage, pet food, barbecues, bird seed (8,000 calories in one kilogram), fruit trees, berry bushes, compost, fruit and vegetable gardens, beehives, chickens and small livestock.

Everyone must secure potential attractants to help keep wildlife wild and communities safe.

· Ensure garbage and recyclables are stored inside until the morning of collection.

· If you do not have an indoor space to store your garbage, use a bear-resistant container.

· High reward and odorous items, such as meat scraps and food leftovers, should be frozen until the day of collection.

· Feed pets indoors.

· Keep livestock feed indoors and in a secure container.

· Keep barbecues clean by burning off bits of food, giving the grills a good scrape, and cleaning the grease trap after each use.

· Do not use bird feeders until winter. Offer a bird bath or plant flowers instead.

· Harvest fruit and berries before they ripen and pick up fallen fruit. If you must leave fruit on trees to ripen, protect them with an electric fence.

· Secure fruit and vegetable gardens, beehives, chickens, and other small livestock with electric fencing.

· Maintain an odour-free compost.

When bears have access to garbage and other unnatural food sources, conflict situations can develop. Bears may become food conditioned, and/or habituated to people. Habituated bears tolerate humans in much closer proximity than what is safe for both bears and humans. Food-conditioned bears may become very motivated to access unnatural food sources, which can lead to property damage or increased concerns regarding public safety. It is particularly unfortunate to see sow bears teaching cubs to forage for unnatural food among people – potentially leading to future conflicts and shorter lives. Bears have excellent memories and once they recognize your neighbourhood as a source of food, they are likely to return year after year.

Help break the cycle and never let a bear associate your neighbourhood with good foraging habitat. It is important to report sightings and conflicts with bears to the Conservation Officer Service (1-877-952-7277) in a proactive manner before a bear becomes food conditioned. This ensures that the local officers know and can work proactively to keep residents safe and also keep the animal safe from harm. Do not wait until a bear becomes a threat to community safety before calling it in. Speak with your neighbours and work collectively as a community to secure all food sources.

If you encounter a bear, stop, remain calm, do not turn your back, and never run. Have your bear spray ready. Keep your eye on the bear and back away slowly, talking calmly. Do not let a bear approach you.

Learn more about how to recreate safely in bear country by taking WildSafeBC’s free online course at

While most bear encounters result in the bear leaving an area, they can become more assertive or destructive when they have learned to associate humans and their activities with food.

All bears that are aggressive in nature, or sightings in urban areas, should be reported to the BC Conservation Officer Service by calling 1-877-952-7277 or making a report online at

For further information on reducing human-wildlife conflict visit, follow WildSafeBC Boundary on Facebook, or contact your local Boundary Coordinator, Elora Beitz, at or 250-444-8401.