Wild Wise Sooke reminds the community to be bear aware, and to avoid having bear attractants in their yards. (Black Press Media file photo) Black Bear carrying garbage. (Black Press Media file photo)

Bear watchers urge bear awareness

Educational group kicks up social media presence in response to social distancing.

It’s that time of year again – to be bear-aware.

With more people at home than what is usual for Vancouver Island due to the pandemic, and likely producing more garbage, it is crucial that we are wary of our furry neighbours.

Sam Webb, community coordinator at Wild Wise Sooke, said unsecured garbage is the main reason bears come into our neighbourhoods, followed closely by livestock and compost.

By removing these attractants from yards, residents can help keep communities safe and minimize human-bear conflicts. In short, the fewer bear attractants in and around town, the fewer bears there will be.

“There is a major difference between a bear passing through a neighbourhood, and a bear in garbage. Only when the bear is up to mischief is when it becomes a concern,” Webb said. “Usually spring time is a time of high activity for bears, who are waking up from their long winter naps. They are usually really hungry at this time so its important for residents to properly manage their garbage.”

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“We definitely have more concerns at this time, because more people are at home, which naturally means more garbage is produced. We just hope they are dealing with it accordingly so wildlife can’t access it,” said Webb.

“I think most people in Sooke care about wildlife in general, and they take pride in being so close to the wild, but sometimes are not sure how to love wildlife in the right way.”

Wild Wise Sooke would normally go around door to door at this time handing out information on how to be “wild wise,” but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the community group has been keeping its distance. The group also usually sets up at local events, such as fairs and farmers markets, and goes around to schools at this time of year to keep the public informed, however that has not been possible.

“We are really trying to do a lot on social media; posting several times a day with different photos, sightings, or educational bits, just to stay present in the community and keep wildlife on people’s minds,” said Webb, adding the group also updates its website regularly, and sent out a pamphlet on “wild wise actions” with Sooke residents’ tax form packages.

Wild Wise is in the process of making some educational videos and youth activities for the community, which it hopes to put up on Facebook some time this week.

“We want to encourage better coexistence with the wildlife, so that they can continue to live a wild life. This takes altering our behaviour to be better neighbours,” said Webb.

The provincial government is also reminding people to keep their “bear attractants at bay” through theirits Bear Smart community program.

“If bears do not have access to non-natural food sources, such as garbage, fruit and bird seed within communities, they have no reason to hang around. This results in increased safety for both people and bears,” said Mike Badry, provincial wildlife conflict manager, B.C .Conservation Officer Service on the province’s website.

“Residents could turn this unusual time into something positive for wildlife by taking extra time to secure attractants and educate themselves about Bear Smart practices.”

Last year the Conservation Officer Service received more than 20,000 calls related to conflicts with bears, many of which were due to unsecured attractants.

“Every year hundreds, and in some years over a thousand, bears are destroyed as a result of conflicts between people and bears,” the province website states.

“The goal is to address the root causes of human-bear conflicts, thereby reducing the risks to human safety and private property, as well as the number of bears that have to be destroyed each year.”

If you spot a bear in a residential area or with people nearby:

• Remain calm. Often, the bear is just passing through. If it finds no food source, it will simply move on.

• Keep your distance. Warn others to keep away as well, and bring your children and pets into the house.

• If the bear appears to be threatening, overly persistent, or aggressive, call the conservation officer 1-877-952-7277.

For more information, please go online to www.wildwisesooke.com or www2.gov.bc.ca and search ‘Bear Smart.’

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