NEWS
07/14/2017 18:13 EDT | Updated 07/16/2017 12:26 EDT

Bear sightings surge in Vancouver Island communities

Conservation officers on Vancouver Island say they have been inundated with bear calls this summer.

Even though the summer has only just begun, conservation officers say more than 300 bear-related calls have been made in the Greater Victoria  area alone. 

That's almost as many as all of last year, a fact that can be attributed to the late berry season, conservation cfficers say.

"We had such a late spring, so in terms of the berry crop being ready, it wasn't ready as early as it has had in the last number of years. Last year was an extremely good year for berries, which I think led to maybe higher survival rates of cubs.

"So, we've got a lot of yearling bears that have become a problem, once mom kicks them loose, and they're starting to learn to fend for themselves," said Sgt. Scott Norris of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

Norris says this is the start of a horrible cycle where young bears become habituated to residential areas. He says it's something people need to be aware of in order to keep the situation from repeating itself each year.

"They are tempted by those smells in the communities and once they learn that behaviour, they're the ones that then grow up in and around communities. And then, what they end up doing is they end up having cubs in those communities and in and around the communities and they start teaching their cubs the same behaviour."

11 bears killed

So far, at least 11 bears have been euthanized, four of which are from Sooke, B.C., news that is frustrating for Sooke resident Debbie Read, who runs Wild Wise Sooke.

"When you live in Sooke, it's important that people understand that they have to live a certain way, because we are in a community that shares the landscape with bears," said Read.

Read wants residents near bear habitats to know that garbage is not the only draw for these animals but bird feeders, pet food and dirty barbecues can also catch the nose of a bear and bring it into town.

"I think a good question for everybody in Sooke to ask themselves [is] if you see a bear in your space, you should ask yourself what am I doing to attract this bear."

Although Sooke is close to several bear corridors, Read says that bears will just wander through the city, if they don't get or smell any garbage, leading them to continue into the forest and eat their berries and grass.

Wild Wise Sooke is currently working with Transition Sooke on a bylaw which has been proposed to the District of Sooke aimed at requiring homeowners to wait until the morning of garbage collection say to put their garbage out.

"When the garbage sits on the streets during the evening, obviously the bears will access it," said Read.

Norris is also of the view these animals can coexist with humans, but he says once they become habituated, they must be euthanized, since they are unable to unlearn the behaviour.

With files from Megan Thomas