Humans' behaviour may change if they realized how many black bears are killed every year in B.C.: advocate

More than 500 black bears were killed in B.C. last year by conservation officers and one organization says the public needs to understand what happens to the animals when attractants encourage them to visit residential areas.

According to statistics shared throughout the year by the province, 504 black bears were recorded as being destroyed by the BC Conservation Officer Service in 2021. Another 84 were killed by other agencies or people, provincial statistics say.

Luci Cadman, executive director of the North Shore Black Bear Society, suggested those numbers could actually be higher.

"I think there are a lot of bears that we lose that are unaccounted for various reasons," Cadman told CTV News.

Cadman explained, for example, if a mother bear is killed, her cub might not be able to survive without her.

"Even one bear killed is too much for us," she said.

WHAT HAPPENS TO BEARS?

While Cadman doesn't discourage people from calling conservation – and certainly hopes people reach out to the North Shore Black Bear Society – she wants the public to be more aware of what happens to bears who may become accustomed to unnatural food sources.

Cadman said she thinks there are situations where the public isn't "getting the full picture," and may not realize how many bears aren't relocated.

"It really needs to be more clear with the public about what is happening to these animals because that's the only way anything's going to change," she said.

"If people are under the impression that bears are just taken away from the community and put back in the forest, there's no incentive for them to change their behaviour."

Provincial statistics show 19 bears were translocated in 2021. CTV News Vancouver is confirming if that number includes all bears that were moved any distance by conservation, and not just those moved to an entirely different region.

Even if a bear is moved, that doesn't always solve the problem, Cadman said.

"When a bear's taken from a community, within days, another bear will fill that void," she said.

GARBAGE A TOP ATTRACTANT

BCCOS is aiming to educate the public on what brings bears to a residential community and said that in 2021, garbage was the most significant attractant noted in their bear conflict calls.

Data shared by the BCCOS to CTV News revealed nearly 70 per cent of those calls involved garbage as attractant. About 15 per cent involved fruit trees and berries. The remaining 15 per cent involved livestock, compost and bird feeders.

"We can do better. Please don’t give bears an opportunity to access unsecure attractants and create a risk to themselves and people," BCCOS said on social media.

"Conservation officers are dedicated to helping prevent bear conflicts in communities but we can’t do it alone."

Cadman thinks public education needs to go much further.

For example, Cadman said, her society learned last year that six bears on the North Shore were killed because they entered a confined space, which could include a home, garage, carport or shed.

"There is a trend typically over the summer for bears entering confined spaces, you know, people have their garages doors open, even having lower-level doors open, when it's hot," she said, adding that her society didn't realize this was a factor in so many conflicts with bears.

In one instance, which CTV News Vancouver reported last June, a bear entered a kitchen and was chased out by someone who was home. At the time, B.C. was experiencing a record-breaking heat wave, so it wasn't a surprise people had their doors open. 

"Obviously with that heat it's very difficult for you to keep your door locked and closed. We totally understand that ventilation is needed, but what we're really asking the public to do is monitor any open access to your house if you live in bear country," BCCOS Sgt. Simon Gravel told CTV News last June.

Cadman said that bear was a mother with a young cub. When the mother was killed by conservation, attempts to find the cub were unsuccessful. Cadman said if it had been captured, an organization like Critter Care Wildlife Society would have helped rehabilitate it.

And as for outdoor spaces, Cadman said garages and sheds should be closed when they're left unattended, and all garbage should be secured.

"If people that had a garage stored their garbage and organics inside the garage until the morning of collection we would see a huge reduction in the amount of time the bears are spending in the community," she said.

"We'll always see them in the community and it's just about giving them space and making sure we're doing everything we can not to encourage them to stay."