Sooke is now a part of the province-wide Bear Aware program, which has a mandate to educate the public on how to co-exist with bears.
“We do live in a community where bears are here, so what are we going to do? We have to learn to live in conjunction with bears because we just can’t shoot them all, and we can’t just move them all,” said Debbie Read, volunteer Bear Aware co-ordinator.
Since becoming established this spring, through Read’s initiative, the local program has worked with BC Parks, local camp sites, resort establishments and the conservation service.
The operation works as an educational service, distributing material like flyers, pamphlets and bookmarks containing information on how to manage bear attractants.
She hopes to speak at schools and build a larger presence though community partnerships.
“We’re looking for additional partnerships with community groups, local businesses and non-profit organizations,” she said. “We really want to get this out in the community.”
According to the Bear Aware manual, the mandate of the program is to “reduce the number of human-bear conflicts in communities through education, innovation and co-operation. It is an educational program based on the premise that the reactive destruction of bears entering our communities in search of food is not a sustainable or viable solution to the problem.”
Prior to the Bear Aware program, Sooke did not have resources available to local residents who come into contact with a bear.
“There’s at least 20 other communities that have lesser problems than we do here in Sooke, that already had Bear Aware co-ordinators, so we were long overdue,” said Peter Pauwels, conservation officer.
“It’s going to be very, very helpful for us for the educational piece because we’re so busy that it’s difficult for us to reach people. So we’re very glad and we hope it’s going to be a continuing thing.”
Pauwels said since April 1, the conservation service has received 246 bear complaints in the Sooke area.
He said over the last three to four years, bear reports have increased significantly due to development.
“There’s more people living in areas that used to be bear habitat especially in a place like Sooke. You’ve got a combination of more bears, more people, and less available habitat for them.”
This year, about eight bears in the CRD region — which stretches from up the Malahat to Port Renfrew — have been terminated.
According to Pauwels, bears will be particularly active through the months of September and October as they fatten up on garbage, ripe berries and fruit for winter hibernation. The main attractants are garbage, chickens and fallen fruit.
He hopes residents will take the necessary precautions to manage attractants around their properties to prevent human-bear conflicts as there is no quick solution to a habituated bear.
“People have to take responsibility to prevent problems from arising, that’s the message everybody needs to understand,” he said. “Most people have the expectation that we can come and move the bear and that will be the end of their problem — they won’t have to change their behaviour. Even if we did move the bear, there’s going to be another one that’s going to come right back if there’s a food source available.”
Pauwels added that bear relocations have a low success rate, with the Sooke Hills, Jordan River and Port Renfrew as the only viable options.
“We have a challenge here, we’re on the tip of an island, there’s not a lot of places I can take a bear,” he said, adding bears that are relocated are only about a day’s walk back to human civilization.
He stressed that habituated sows raise cubs that are food conditioned, creating generations of bears that seek out human sources of food.
“They’re pretty adaptable. They don’t mind living in and amongst people. They overcome their fear and they raise their cubs here, and the cubs learn and that’s all they know, is living in a human environment.”
How to stay Bear Aware:
• Store garbage in secure bins and keep indoors until the collection day.
• Be sure to pick berries and fruit as they ripen. Contact the Food Community Health Initiative (CHI) at: firstname.lastname@example.org to have your fruit trees gleaned by volunteers.
• Keep chickens in at night, and young animals close to home. Keep feed secured.
• Feed your pet indoors, or clean up pet food after feeding outdoors.
• Clean barbecues by burning the grill entirely, and remove and clean grease trap after every use.
• Layer your compost kitchen scraps with no more than 10 cm of yard waste like dried leaves, grasses and newspaper. Do not add fish, meat, fat, oils, unrinsed eggshells or cooked food.
For more information visit: www.bearaware.bc.ca