Bear Aware information blitz in east Abbotsford neighbourhoods

There have been more black bear sightings in east Abbotsford, after a stubborn bear was shot on Sunday night by members of the APD

There have been more black bear sightings in east Abbotsford, after a stubborn bear was shot on Sunday night by members of the Abbotsford Police.

That will be at least the third bear in urban subdivisions this month.

Conservation officer Don Stahl tranquilized one and released it in the Harrison Lake area on June 13.

There were reports of a smaller black bear in the Whatcom Road area on Monday, and on Tuesday it was seen sniffing a backyard compost in the Sandy Hill area.

The Fraser Valley Regional District, of which Abbotsford is a member community, recently hired two Bear Aware coordinators. Stahl has requested they bring an information blitz to Abbotsford’s easternmost neighbourhoods.

Stahl believes the small bear is the one he tracked on June 13. That brazen bruin was in the backyards of a townhouse complex on McKenzie Road, and then crossed the Trans-Canada Highway and was seen at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Residents are asked to remove attractants, especially if they have seen a bear in their neighbourhood. The seed in bird feeders offers bears a high-calorie meal, and garbage, fruit trees, barbecues, pet food and compost are other attractants. Reducing odours is the key, and if garbage is to contain fish parts or other meat, it should be frozen to keep the smell down.

Bears are ruled by their stomachs. If there is no food, they will leave the area.

The areas of Auguston, Bateman, Sumas Mountain, Sandy Hill and neighbouring subdivisions are all being frequented by this small bear, which has so far been scared away by people.

“We’re hoping that with berries ripening, they’ll be drawn back into the woods,” said Stahl.

The Bear Aware coordinator for Abbotsford/Mission is Brian Cummings. He will be doing a door-to-door canvass in east Abbotsford, and will also be at a booth at the Canada Day festivities in Abbotsford this weekend.

“Once they get food-conditioned, that’s it for them,” said Cummings, “as that poor little fellow found out.”

Cummings can be reached at 604-820-3795.

 

PROBLEM BEARS

Bear Aware talks about two types of problem bears.

Food-conditioned bears are those that have learned that human habitations contain food, and have become attracted to campgrounds and communities.

Habituated bears are those that have become comfortable with people, and tolerate them at a close distance. They have learned that banging pots and other loud noises do not represent a real danger, and they no longer respond to them.

These bears can falsely appear “tame” to some people, and there is a danger they will cause injury if they suddenly become uncomfortable with a person’s presence.

If you have a bear in your backyard, this should not be viewed as a welcome event. From the safety of your house, try banging pots to scare it away. Consider what attracted the bear to your backyard. Call the province’s RAPP line  (Report All Poachers and Polluters) at 1-877-952-7277.

Intentionally feeding a bear is an offence that can result in a fine.

People who live in areas where bears have been spotted should teach their children what to do if they encounter a bear: Don’t run, don’t climb a tree. Instead, back away, speaking in low tones at a normal volume.

For more information see bearaware.bc.ca.

Abbotsford Police and the Conservation Officer Service will be reviewing their communications after Sunday night’s incident.

Const. Ian MacDonald said APD members were engaged with the bear in the Sandy Hill area for two hours and 40 minutes, and had up to 10 members involved in tracking the creature.

The concern was that it was on balconies and in backyards, and exhibiting no fear of humans – even after being hit with pepper spray.

MacDonald said it would have been more humanely dealt with by a CO, who is equipped with a hunting rifle and tranquilizer darts

The police “patrol rifle” that was used to put down the bruin required several rounds before the bear expired.

“It’s not the tool you would want for the job,” MacDonald said.

He said shooting the bear was a last resort, and a public safety measure.

“People recognize this was not a rash decision.”

However, there is also confusion as to why a conservation officer did not respond to the police call.

He said the review will look at who called the CO service, and what information was relayed. Specifically, they will look at whether the COs were told the bear had left the area.

“Both sides are concerned,” said MacDonald.

Don Stahl was not the officer who responded to the call, but said his information is that the CO responded about 15 minutes after APD contacted the dispatch. He was told they had lost sight of the bear, and did not respond.

Stahl supported the decision to kill the bear, and said it would likely have gone to the same fate if a CO had attended.

While some will debate whether it was necessary to kill the bear, that bruin was one of approximately 500 to 600 black bears shot in B.C. every year. Another 40 grizzly bears, a protected species, are also killed.

And it is not the northern regions or Interior where most human-bear conflicts take place. The geo-mapping feature on the province’s RAPP line, which records wildlife conflicts, shows that the majority of confrontations take place in the Lower Mainland.

Stahl calls east Abbotsford “bear country,” noting there are between 20 and 40 bears living on the mountain.

That said, he believes this is only the second time in his 15 years as a CO serving the area that a bear has been killed in Abbotsford.

Mission has more bears, and seven were killed there last year.

Stahl patrols an area that stretches from Coquitlam to Boston Bar, and each year they receive about 4,700 calls about bears, and another 450 calls about cougars. The dispatch service prioritizes the calls. For example, if a bear is killing livestock, attempting to get into a structure or has chased a person, they always respond.

MacDonald noted the incident has raised the issue of whether police should be equipped with a tranquilizer weapon. However, he said that may not be practical, and it is preferable to call in someone who is an expert at dealing with wildlife.

Stahl said using a tranquilizer is not simple, and requires a three-day course. He does not know of any other jurisdiction in North American where police tranquilize bears. He noted police officers in Whistler have bear kits in their cruisers, which include bean bag guns and bear bangers to drive the animals away.

MacDonald said the APD has had “nothing but positive” relations with the Conservation Officer Service, and makes office space available to them at the detachment.