Just under a month before bears start emerging from hibernation, the Hope Mountain Black Bear Committee is ramping up its awareness efforts.
Male bears begin to come out mid-April, then females with their cubs emerge mid-May, said Lydia Koot, chair of the committee. A bear and cougar awareness seminar is planned for this Saturday in Sunshine Valley, it is the first of many sessions Koot will hold to protect bears from being shot.
Koot, a self-declared bear lover who started the committee seven years ago after a bear was shot close to her home, has taken on the mission of protecting bears from meeting a sad end to their life at the barrel of a gun.
“The love for bears and the frustration of having bears shot while we are lazy and cause the death of bears and cougars,” is what drives Koot.
The message is the same year after year: by removing attractants —garbage, bird feeders, compost, fruit, pet food, dirty barbecues, outside fridges and freezers, used baby diapers and petrol-based products — the bears are less likely to come close to humans and become a nuisance.
There is no such thing as a “problem bear,” a brochure by the committee states.
“Once conditioned to look for ‘easy’ food from humans, the bear usually becomes a public safety hazard. It is the bear that pays for human mistakes with his life.”
In addition to the more obvious attractants, some items such as baby diapers, pop and beer cans and petroleum products are also huge draws for bears.
“Bears love chainsaw grease, they love (paint) stain, they love anything with the smell to it,” Koot said.
“People don’t realize, that they will drink a gallon of paint like a can of pop. And they won’t get sick right away, but they will get sick in the long run. It will kill them.”
A bear was shot in Sunshine Valley last year. Among other attractants, the bear was drawn to leftover beer and pop cans.
Relocation may seem like a possible solution to a bear that has become a hazard, but Koot said this is not done in this region. Bears who are identified as a problem are killed. To prevent this, Koot said the committee works closely with the Conservation Officer Service to prevent this outcome.
Fruit is a major attractant for bears, especially the fruit that falls to the ground and rots. The committee has started a fruit picking program to remove the attractant. What they pick goes to the food bank and seniors homes.
With bumper crops certain years, the committee has had to become creative. Some fruit is now canned at Park Street Manor and two years ago 2,000 pounds of apples were donated to the Northern Lights Wildlife Society, which cares for orphaned wildlife in Smithers, B.C.
Koot said these efforts year after year have paid off, with bear complaints decreasing from over 350 in 2011 to 12 last year.
The committee has expanded their education to include cougars, who were very present the past few winters yet not very much this one, and bobcats.
The March 31 event is free and open to the public, it will start at 10 a.m. the at the Holidays Trail RV Resort in Sunshine Valley.