Alarming Surge: B.C. Conservation Officers Report Highest Black Bear Kill Rate in a Decade

Urgent Concerns as Black Bear Killings Hit Decade-High in B.C.: Habitat Loss and Wildfires Blamed

Newly released data from the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) reveals an alarming surge in the number of black bears killed in 2023, reaching a decade-high and prompting concerns from experts and residents alike. The BCCOS reported that 460 black bears were killed by conservation officers in the first nine months of the year, accompanied by a staggering 21,000 reports from British Columbians regarding black bear conflicts. These figures represent the highest recorded for this timeframe since 2011 when the BCCOS began releasing bear-related statistics.

Experts attribute the increase in bear-human conflicts to factors such as food and habitat loss resulting from wildfires and drought. As wildfires and smoke continue to ravage the region, bears face challenges in finding their traditional foods. The scarcity of natural resources drives bears into urban areas, intensifying interactions with humans.

The spike in reported black bear interactions was particularly noticeable in August, with nearly 6,000 calls to the BCCOS, resulting in the killing of 151 bears. Conservation officer Alicia Buchanan, who provided insights during a recent ride-along with CBC's The National, described the situation in Chilliwack — a Fraser Valley municipality — where calls have doubled compared to previous years. Buchanan emphasized the urgency of removing attractants as bears increasingly venture into communities.

Wildlife experts highlight the significance of late summer and fall when bears are most hungry, attempting to fatten up before winter hibernation. The unavailability of traditional foods due to wildfires, smoke, and prolonged drought may be a driving factor pushing bears to seek food in urban areas.

Conservation ecologist Cole Burton, teaching at the University of British Columbia, points to human-caused climate change as a significant contributor to the challenges faced by the province's bears. He underscores the undeniable impact of climate change on ecosystems, affecting natural food availability such as berries and salmon.

As the numbers reflect a pressing issue, the community grapples with the consequences of habitat loss, emphasizing the urgent need for proactive measures to mitigate conflicts and protect both bears and residents.

Wildfire and Drought Impact Wildlife: Human-Bear Conflicts on the Rise in B.C.

As British Columbia grapples with a surge in black bear killings, residents and experts point to the compounding effects of extreme events such as droughts and wildfires on wildlife behavior. Corey Hardeman, an artist residing in Prince George, B.C., emphasizes witnessing bears in her backyard daily this summer, with some subsequently shot by conservation officers. Hardeman attributes the bears' increased presence in urban areas to the scarcity of food in their natural habitats due to habitat loss resulting from wildfires and drought.

While acknowledging that towns are not safe havens for bears, Hardeman notes that hungry bears are drawn to easily accessible food sources, including fruit trees and unsecured garbage. She laments the lack of awareness and care in her community, leading to numerous bears losing their lives throughout the summer.

The British Columbia Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) asserts that bears accustomed to human food are typically not suitable candidates for relocation. Despite being a last resort, the BCCOS prioritizes public safety, recognizing the challenges and heartbreak associated with euthanizing bears.

Conservation officer Alicia Buchanan expresses the emotional toll of such decisions, stating, "I can't think of a worse day in my career than [one] when you have to remove bears." The BCCOS underscores its commitment to public safety while acknowledging the public's aversion to bear euthanizations.

Community co-ordinator Olivia Lemke from WildSafeBC in Kamloops emphasizes the importance of community efforts to mitigate human-bear conflicts. She advises prompt harvesting of ripe fruit and pressure washing fruit-bearing trees during spring to reduce fruit yield, discouraging bears from lingering in residential areas. Lemke also advocates for bear-resistant bins and the proper storage of food waste between collection days to prevent bears from creating "food maps" and returning to the same food sources repeatedly.

As human-bear conflicts escalate, the need for proactive measures becomes increasingly evident. Residents, communities, and conservation authorities must collaborate to create safer environments for both bears and humans in the face of changing ecosystems and environmental challenges.

Proactive Measures Urged: Addressing Root Causes of Human-Bear Conflicts in B.C.

In response to the escalating human-bear conflicts in British Columbia, experts and community coordinators are emphasizing the importance of addressing the root causes to effectively manage the issue. Rather than relying on relocation, which may not be a sustainable solution, the focus is on eliminating attractants that draw bears into urban areas.

Corey Hardeman, a resident in Prince George, echoes the sentiment that addressing what attracts animals into communities is key to devising an effective strategy. She emphasizes that the scarcity of food in natural habitats, exacerbated by events like wildfires and drought, compels bears to seek nourishment in towns, putting them at risk.

WildSafeBC community coordinator Olivia Lemke highlights the need for collective efforts in mitigating human-bear conflicts. Urging communities to eliminate food-source attractants, Lemke recommends prompt harvesting of ripe fruit, pressure washing fruit-bearing trees, and employing bear-resistant bins to discourage bears from frequenting residential areas. This proactive approach, she argues, is crucial in fostering coexistence between humans and wildlife.

As the discussion around human-bear conflicts continues, residents and communities are urged to play an active role in creating safer environments. By eliminating attractants and implementing responsible practices, individuals contribute to minimizing the risks for both bears and humans, ultimately fostering a more harmonious cohabitation.

With these insights, the call for proactive measures becomes central in mitigating the impact of changing ecosystems and human activity on wildlife, paving the way for a more sustainable and respectful coexistence.

In conclusion, as British Columbia grapples with a surge in human-bear conflicts, the emphasis is placed on addressing root causes rather than relying solely on relocation efforts. Experts and community coordinators stress the importance of eliminating attractants that draw bears into urban areas, considering this a more sustainable and effective strategy. Corey Hardeman and Olivia Lemke highlight the role of human activities, such as wildfires and drought, in pushing bears towards towns in search of food.

The call to action includes prompt harvesting of ripe fruit, pressure washing fruit-bearing trees, and adopting bear-resistant bins to discourage bears from frequenting residential areas. This proactive approach is deemed crucial in fostering coexistence between humans and wildlife.

As the discussion unfolds, residents and communities are encouraged to actively participate in creating safer environments for both bears and humans. By understanding and addressing the underlying factors contributing to human-bear conflicts, individuals contribute to a more harmonious cohabitation, promoting responsible practices that minimize risks for both wildlife and the community. This underscores the importance of collective efforts in mitigating the impact of changing ecosystems and human activity on wildlife, with the goal of creating a more sustainable and respectful coexistence.