Stuart Bates, sergeant of Conservation Officer Services for central Vancouver Island says he’s done giving warnings to people who continue to leave bear attractants on their property.
The Conservation Officer Service shared a post through their Facebook page that said after patrolling several Ladysmith neighbourhoods, numerous homes were found to have their garbage or compost bins out — despite several recent bear sightings in the area. Residents were reminded that they are legally required to secure attractants, or face a fine of $230.
That post was then shared to Facebook forums where some comments spread misinformation about what power conservation officers have.
Section 33.1 of the B.C. Wildlife Act states that people must not leave or place attractants in or about any land or premises where there are likely to be people in a manner in which the attractant can attract dangerous wildlife to the land or premises and be accessible to dangerous wildlife.
Leaving garbage and compost bins on the street the night before garbage pick up contravenes the act, and according the law conservation offers have the power to fine people if the offence continues for more than one day, and may be imposed each day the offence continues.
“If it’s on the street, you’ve done nothing to secure it from the bear. You’re going to get charged,” Bates said. “You are legally responsible to secure all attractants that are yours or in your yard.”
Bates suggests securing garbage and compost bins in garages or sheds. If neither of those are an option, he suggests getting a bear resistant container for garbage and compost. He also cautioned people to clean up fallen fruit from their trees.
“Fruit on the tree that hasn’t been picked yet doesn’t really smell, but fruit on the ground that starts to rot smells for miles,” he said. “It’s the rotting fruit that attracts them, and when they get there, they’ll be more than happy to clean it up for you.”
The Ladysmith Resource Centre Association has a gleaning program that will come and take unwanted fruit from fruit trees. Peerless Road recycling centre also takes yard waste such as fallen fruit for free.
Conservation officers base their actions on bear behaviour, not on bear sightings. They rank behaviour on a scale of one to seven. A one is a bear in the forest eating natural foods that is afraid of humans. A seven is a bear that stalks and attacks humans. Bates said once bears go up a level, they never come back down.
It’s difficult to relocate problem bears because they can travel large distances with ease. Last year, a bear was relocated from Second Avenue in Ladysmith to Mount Arrowsmith. The bear returned to Ladysmith three weeks later. The bear was eventually killed by a car in Yellow Point.
Bates challenged misinformation that conservation officers will kill bears for simply being reported in a human area. Early intervention can prevent the need for bears to be put down.
“Call me as soon as you can, because as soon as I know there’s a bear there I can make people put their attractants away,” he said.
Bates has worked as a conservation officer for 13 years, and he said shooting bears is the worst part of his job.
“I hate it. I was so excited this year because I hadn’t had to put one down.”
When people don’t call conservation officers for early intervention, not only are the endangering the lives of bears, they’re adding a heavy weight to the conscience of B.C.’s conservation officers.
Wild Safe BC, an organization dedicated to preventing conflict with wildlife, has a wealth of information on how to be safe with wildlife in communities and in the wilderness. They also regularly post reports to the conservation officers service so people know what is in their neighbourhood.
Similar to the BC Wildfire Service, Wild Safe BC has an interactive map with options to follow specific animal sightings in specific communities throughout the province.
With all of this information available, Bates reiterated that the time for warnings is over, and employed the public to call him.
“We’ve made every concerted effort to alert the public to the problem,” he said. “The sooner you call me the more options I have. The longer the wait the less options I have.”