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Bears breach insecure garbages daily as Greater Victoria deterrence effort eyed

Conservation officers fielding lots of calls daily about bears in improperly stored trash
Langford residents have now received repeated calls to secure their garbage after multiple incidents involving the trash attracting bears in the community through the first half of May. The B.C. Conservation Officer Service said it’s getting calls daily about bears in local garbages (Black Press file photo)

One of the responsibilities the few conservation officers on south Vancouver Island are tasked with is being out in the wilderness to prevent poaching, but an avoidable daily occurrence is reducing the time they can spend on those efforts.

“Sometimes our ability to do that is inhibited by all these calls of bears getting into garbage,” said field officer Rick Dekelver.

By midday Monday (May 13), he said the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS) had received six to eight calls about bears digging through insecure trash in the Langford area alone. While that level of calls is now a regular occurrence, communities around the West Shore didn’t have a consistent bear problem until around four years ago, the officer said.

“It seems like the bears have figured out there is an abundance of garbage not being properly secured in those areas and they’re having a heyday,” Dekelver said in an interview.

West Shore RCMP received four calls about black bears eating garbage in Langford on May 12, just eight days after its officers had to respond to a similar incident near Florence Lake.

“We’re certain there’s a family group (of bears) that’s been getting into garbage daily, and there’s now a large male that’s shown up and doing the same thing,” Dekelver said, adding there could be additional bears involved in the area.

Both of the Langford incidents saw police remind the city’s residents to secure their trash and not store food outside, but a more regional approach to preventing the bear encounters may be on its way.

The Capital Regional District (CRD) board on May 8 voted in favour of having its staff work with municipalities to develop a consistent policy and bylaw to limit bear attractants. That measure is centred around preventing interactions between bears and people, and aims to foster coexistence particularly in areas frequently visited by bears.

Scott Norris, a COS sergeant, told the CRD that leaving bear attractants out can already land people a ticket. But with only four conservation officers responsible for everywhere south of Ladysmith on the Island, he supports the move to get bylaw officers involved at the local level.

The board also heard from Mollie Cameron of Wild Wise, which works to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts and promote peaceful coexistence through education. The wildlife campaigner said the vast majority of conflicts involving animals are due to garbage not being secure.

“Leaving attractants unsecured provides opportunity for wildlife to get themselves into situations where they become food conditioned to non-natural foods, and prefer them, and their easy access, over natural forage,” Cameron said. “This typically leads to habituation and escalations in behaviour that poses potential risk to public safety and can ultimately cost these animals their lives.”

COS has a team of volunteers going around to neighbourhoods where bears are commonly getting into garbages. Those educational efforts look to show people how to properly secure trash and non-natural food attractants.

If feeding on residential garbage becomes habit for bears, it could lead to them becoming aggressive over time, leaving COS with having to euthanize the animals. That, Norris said, is tragic for officers.

“It literally tears us apart, we got in this job because we want to protect wildlife and the environment,” he said.

Langford Coun. Colby Harder wants to prepare a public awareness campaign around the bear incidents and explore legal options, including a Wildlife Attractant Bylaw, to address what she called an ongoing issue in her city. In a Facebook post, she said that motion will be coming forward at a council meeting later in May.

Dekelver said people could face fines for not properly securing their garbage and food scraps in certified bear-proof bins, or in an inside place where the animals can’t get to the waste.

Wild Wise’s Cameron said their members go door-to-door to provide education, but they consistently hear from individuals who prioritize convenience over the lives of bears. Creating a regional fine system would be the best way to protect wildlife, the advocate said.

“We are all so fortunate to live in communities that border wild spaces, but it is a responsibility that some people simply do not understand or care for.”

READ: CSO asks Bear Mountain residents to lock up attractants after bear incident

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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