A black bear wanders through a Sooke neighbourhood in 2015. Wild Wise Sooke has recorded seven bear sightings this year.

Waking black bears in search of food

Wild Wise Sooke reports first bear sighting of the year

Vancouver Island wildlife officials are asking Sooke residents to prepare for a busy bear season as the bruins begin to wake from their winter slumber.

So far, the numbers are not alarming: six bears were reported in March, and one in April, said conservation officer Peter Pauwels.

“It will pick up. Then it comes really hard and fast,” he said.

“May is a very busy month for us when they first come out, they are very hungry and there’s not a lot of stuff out there for them to eat.”

It’s not unusual for bears to be up this early either, as early shoots of skunk cabbage, horsetail, clover and dandelions serve as a quick preseason meal.

“We believe much of it is dependent on the temperature, but it doesn’t do them a lot of good to get up early if there’s nothing to eat, so they may still stay dormant and wake up in May when there’s more vegetation for them to eat,” Pauwels said.

Even feeding on early spring vegetation, bears won’t gain much weight, and continue to drop pounds well into June and July.

Typically, bears will stay low in valley basins in the spring and go into the hills in search of summer berries.

The concern comes when bears become habituated to human food, usually abundant in urban centers. This is something Debbie Read, community coordinator of Wild Wise Sooke, hopes will change this year.

“If you live in Sooke, chances are you have bears living nearby. We live in bear country and should learn to expect to deal with bears,” she said.

“We can cut the potential for human-bear conflict by simply managing attractants.”

Some bear prevention tips include storing the garbage in your garage, putting the garbage tote curbside between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. on collection day, feed pets indoors and keep all feeding bowls indoors, and rinsing out recycling boxes to reduce odours.

“Let’s keep them [bears] moving to the hills by not attracting them into our neighbourhoods with non-natural food,” Read said.

Not doing so certainly has its consequences.

Weeks ago, a habituated bear was killed after repeatedly trying to pry open a chicken run in the Whiffin Spit area. After living and feeding on human food in the area for years, he was no longer fearful of people.

In a more recent case, a dog was injured in Jordan River following an attack by another habituated bear, Pauwels said. The bear (described as missing a front paw) is familiar to the area for the last two years, and appears to be getting “increasingly bold.”

As always, relocation of the bear is not an option, just prevention.

“Bears are opportunistic omnivores and will return often to a readily available food source, if the attractant is secured or removed, the bear will move on,” Read said.

For more info on bear prevention and managing your attractants, contact Debbie Read at 250-646-2997,wildwisesooke@gmail.com or go to wildwisesooke.com.