Poor Berry Season Blamed For Large BC Bear Complaints

Canada Guardian, Bear Hunting Magazine

A poor berry season in British Columbia is drawing hungry bears into the residential areas that are increasingly encroaching on their natural habitats, conservation officials said after another bear encounter in a Vancouver suburb.

No one was hurt when a bear broke into a basement kitchen in Coquitlam on Thursday morning, a day after a woman was mauled by another bear in her yard just a few kilometres away. In both cases, the bears were shot and killed.

The Coquitlam area, where backyards are carved out of thick forest, is considered a hot-spot for bear activity, but there are normally thousands of sightings a year in the Lower Mainland and across the province. Drake Stephens of Bear Aware, a non-profit conservation group that educates the public about bears in British Columbia, said bear sightings appear to be higher than usual.

His organization has received about 500 calls about bear sightings in Coquitlam so far this year, compared with about the same number in all of 2007.

"It's not just a coincidence. Right now the salmonberry is finished, we've had a bad spring, the blackberries aren't ripe yet," said Stephens. "From what I'm hearing, all of British Columbia is seeing a peak this year in sightings and complaints."

RCMP were called to a house in Coquitlam on Thursday morning after people in an adjacent golf course saw a large bear entering a basement window. "There were people upstairs. From what I understand, they were unaware that the bear had entered their residence," said Const. Sharen Leung.

Leung said when officers arrived, the bear, which weighed about 180 kilograms, was in the yard eating food that it found in a kitchen inside the house. Officers shot the bear in the shoulder, but it climbed nearly 20 metres up a tree. Conservation officers then tranquilized the animal, and RCMP officers shot and killed it once it fell to the ground.

A day earlier, a 35-year-old woman was attacked by another bear in the same neighbourhood while she was gardening in her yard. The RCMP also shot that animal and the woman was taken to hospital with a torn scalp and numerous bite wounds. She was last reported to be in stable condition. A conservation officer said the bear likely considered the woman to be a food source.

Conservation officials have long complained that residents do not take enough precautions to keep bears away, such as storing food and garbage in bear-proof containers.

Wayne Goodey, who teaches zoology at the University of British Columbia, said when berries and other sources of food run low, bears have little choice but to move into lower, populated areas to find something to eat. "Bears generally don't wish to come into these areas," said Goodey. "There's no great benefit for them at all. They're confronted by dangers in traffic and that sort of thing. They're attracted by easy food."

"If they're up in their own zones, if something goes wrong, they know where to run," he said. "When they're in an area that's unfamiliar to them, they don't know what to do next. It's a panic situation."

The Conservation Officer Service has received more than 2,300 calls since April about threatening wildlife in Metro Vancouver, most of which would have been bears, according to the Environment Ministry. Each year, conservation officers across the province kill about 700 problem bears.

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