From local programs to help minimize bear/human interactions, to the hibernating logistics of local bears, to whether catch and release really happens, and to the bear deaths of 2018, The Revelstoke Current shines the spotlight on the Bears of Revelstoke.
Since the start of 2018, four bears have been killed in Revelstoke and six have been reported as having been hit on the local highways.
“Of those bears killed in Revelstoke, one was a bear killed in the spring, one was a sick bear killed this fall, one was a bear that was bluff charging people as they put out their garbage in Arrow Heights, and another was in the downtown area,” says Maggie Spizzirri, the Revelstoke Bear Aware Coordinator.
Problem bears are trapped by conservation officers and killed off site so as not to upset residents. Trapping black bears to be released rarely works.
“The issue is that we don’t get reports on bear sightings, we get reports after a bear has already gotten into someone’s garbage several times,” says Spizzirri. “”The only bears that are captured and released are bears that are young and not yet food conditioned. Being trapped is a frightening enough experience that they don’t hazard coming back into town. But once they become habituated to garbage, they don’t unlearn it and the bears do come back.”
It’s a hard lesson the bears pay the price for, and despite being a small mountain town, plenty of people who live in Revelstoke have not grasped the strength and determination the bears display in their hunt for food.
“A fence will not stop a bear; they can climb straight up a tree. A rock on top of your garbage or a plastic snap lid will not stop a bear; they can bend metal and are far stronger than we are,” says Spizzirri. “A commercial bin with a loose chain will still let a bear have partial access. A good rule of thumb is that if a person with a crowbar can pry it open, so will a bear.”
Every year in Revelstoke there is at least one case of a bear breaking into someone’s house, and several cases of bears getting into vehicles. “As you can imagine, it would be pretty frightening to have a bear in your kitchen,” says Spizzirri.
Spizzirri notes that historically, bears stay active until around Christmas, and activity starts again around March 15th. There have been local cases of bears that do not go into hibernation. They end up slowly starving to death and are eventually killed by conservation officers. “Bears don’t have to hibernate, and in areas with food abundance and no snow, they don’t hibernate. They hibernate here because the cold and snow limits their food. Generally, the colder it is or the more snow we get , the earlier the bears will hibernate,” says Spizzirri.
“Some people leave fruit on their trees for the bears,” says Spizzirri. “They feel they are helping the bears get some autumn calories, but these fruit trees aren’t found in nature. So they are helping keep bears in town. For these bears, garbage is the next step, and then sometimes aggressive behaviour like the bear in Arrow Heights.”
The Arrow Heights bear knew when garbage day was, and the bear, ready to feast on waste, tried to scare away residents as they put out their garbage.
“There really is a lot of natural bear food around Revelstoke,” explains Spizzirri. “Bears will eat flowers, and they love dandelions. They eat small animals, bugs, pinecones, fish and grasses. Bear movement has been studied and scientists have discovered that bears to follow huckleberry bushes all over BC. So please, if you’re picking wild berries, leave some for the wildlife.”
Spizzirri says that the increase of black bears in town this year may have to do with the grizzly in the South Side area by Bridge Creek.
“Black bears and grizzlies don’t get along. Grizzlies can and will kill black bears. Black bears give grizzlies plenty of space, so some black bears in that area may have been pushed into town,” says Spizzirri.
While the city is improving the bylaws to help limit bear/human interactions; a bylaw came into effect last year implementing that all garbage had to be secure and un-accessible, people can do better. Some residents who use commercial bins have moved to the bear proof containers, and Spizzirri says that Waste Management has been forthcoming in their willingness to upgrade bins and have currently placed an order for more bear proof containers.
Bear Aware has an initiative running for homeowners to help offset the cost of Tidy Bins, a bear resistant container that can hold two large garbage cans outside. “We received some funding this year and are offering $300 towards each Tidy Bin purchased from Home Hardware,” says Spizzirri. “They are still expensive, at about $425 after the discount, but people have been really pleased with them.” Alternatively, garbage can be kept indoors.
With another five weeks of potential bear activity, Spizzirri emphasizes that these hungry animals need upwards of 20,000 calories a day. “If you aren’t already in the habit of keeping your garbage inside, please start to,” she urges. “There are still active bears in the downtown courthouse area and Columbia Park. We can encourage them to hibernate and not have to kill any more bears this year.”