Bear sightings in the area have increased dramatically in 2019 compared to previous years, possibly due to young bears recently sent to fend for themselves by their mothers. Black Press file photo

Nanaimo bear sightings take big jump so far this year

Young bears sent to fend for themselves by their mothers could account for recent spike in sightings

The summer will likely see a few more black bears roaming around and residents and conservation officers in Nanaimo will just have to bear it.

Counting recent bear sightings in the Linley Valley and Oliver Woods areas, conservation officers have fielded 106 calls about urban bears since April.

“Last year, all year, we had 85,” said Stuart Bates, sergeant for the central Island zone of the B.C. Conservation Officers service.

On Wednesday, a large male bear was seen in the bush near Uplands Drive and Turner Road. It matches the description of one a B.C. Ferries vessel gave the right of way recently when it swam from Stephenson Point to Newcastle and Protection islands.

“So we have our media star that swam from Stephenson Point to Newcastle and then, apparently he swam back and was there on … Wednesday morning and he was out in Oakridge, Glen Oaks area … He may be looking for food. He may also be looking for girlfriends because it is the season,” Bates said. “Apparently the only thing he got into that he wasn’t supposed to was he got into some birdseed on Protection Island, so we just told people to put it away and expect him to return.”

Bates said once bears learn where there’s food, they’ll return until they learn the food source is no longer there. So far, this bear has not gotten into anyone’s garbage.

“I’m more than happy to let him wander around the Linley Valley and even go over to Newcastle occasionally as long as he doesn’t get into any trouble,” he said. “We need people to secure their garbage and their birdseed and those green compost bins are what they actually want. You’ve sorted your garbage for him and they’re not bear-proof.”

The best way to prevent a bear getting into garbage is to keep compost bins locked in a shed or garage between collection days. Failing to secure foods and garbage from wildlife can result in a $230 fine.

On Thursday, a small young bear was spotted near Oliver Woods Community Centre and was reported splashing around in a pond and chasing ducks. Bates said that is normal behaviour, the bear is not a threat and should not be a problem if it is kept away from garbage, but Thursday afternoon another young bear did get into garbage near Andres Road in the north Jingle Pot Road area. Bates said that bear and the one at Oliver Woods are likely siblings reared by a sow that has lived along the Millstone River for several years.

Also this past week, another bear, possibly another sibling of the bears seen Wednesday and Thursday, had to be put down after it got into garbage in an open garage.

“So it learned to associate buildings as a place to find food on Monday,” Bates said. “On Tuesday, a few doors down, it was trying to break through the back door of an occupied house.”

Bears learn quickly and once they associate food with buildings, Bates said conservation officers can’t let them stay in the area, but can’t relocate them because they will either simply return or go to another town. He cited one instance where a rescued cub, originally from Port Alberni, was released back to the wild last summer near Mount Arrowsmith.

“Three weeks later he was sitting on a sidewalk in Ladysmith,” Bates said. “That’s how fast they can move.”

The bear roamed around Yellow Point for a few months until it was struck and killed by a vehicle.

“We tried,” Bates said.

He said sighting numbers jump every other year and conservation officers expected them to rise in 2019. Sows have cubs and send them off to fend for themselves after raising them for two years.

“I guess a bunch of the sows are on the same cycle because for us and the north Island and the south Island every odd year seems to be having increased bear calls,” Bates said. “So we expected to be a little higher. We didn’t expect it to be that high just in Nanaimo, but a lot of that could be just those three two-year-olds that the mom kicked out.”
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