The new Metro Vancouver zone manager for the Conservation Officer Service is asking residents to take better care of their garbage after a bear was shot and killed last week on a residential street in east Maple Ridge.
“It was out in mid-day, in a front drive, going yard to yard to garbage,” said conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter.
He noted that conservation officers had set a trap for the bear on Tamarack Lane in March, but it could not be lured. Eventually they needed to use the equipment for a problem bear elsewhere.
Conservation officers determined the bear on Tamarack had become too accustomed to wandering neighbourhoods for garbage and had to be removed.
“It was quick and humane,” Hunter said of the shooting on May 6.
“It’s the hardest part of our job – we have a vested interest in wildlife. We love the outdoors and preservation, but human safety is paramount.
“We cannot afford a habituated bear in a community, that could hurt someone.”
Hunter is now overseeing the work of conservation officers in the Lower Mainland, based out of his office in downtown Maple Ridge.
The Conservation Officer Service has gone back to a having zone managers, and Hunter was selected for the new leadership role.
He started work on May 1, coming from Prince George, which is a city of about 72,000 people, surrounded by wilderness. It was a hopping office, where conservation officers dealt with calls about moose and grizzly bears. Now he faces a new challenge.
“I’ve gone from a busy office to the busiest,” he said.
The volume of calls in Metro Vancouver is unsurpassed, as it includes communities such as North Vancouver, Coquitlam Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows – urban areas bordered by forests.
There are problem bears, coyotes, skunks and more, and the number of human/wildlife conflicts is trending upward.
“We’re encroaching into their territory more and more.”
For the entire Lower Mainland, there are six officers. As they respond to the highest volume of calls in the province, they also have to fight traffic.
“Every office in every zone is a little different,” said Hunter, who has also had postings in Nanaimo and Port Hardy over his career.
In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, a huge part of the job is trying to manage human/bear conflicts.
Bears have been denning over the winter. Although it is controversial among scientists whether bears truly hibernate, they are capable of going months without eating, drinking or passing waste.
At this time of year, bears are emerging from their dens and eating grass, waiting for berry crops to ripen and salmon to start spawning.
“They should be eating a lot of grass, but who wants to eat grass when you can eat pizza boxes,” says Hunter.
Managing the waste stream and other food sources is the main issue in managing bears.
People are asked to ensure they don’t put garbage out to the curb until the morning of collection – not the night before. Store garbage cans securely, and rinse containers to minimize odours.
The seed in bird feeders is a target for bears, and he asks that people not feed birds at this time of year, or when they don’t need to.
Fruit trees become a main attractant in the summer.
“If you don’t use it, lose it,” he asks. “If you’re not using the fruit from a tree, cut it down.
Clean your barbecue to avoid food smells that attract bears.
Keep pet food indoors. It will not only attract bears, but coyotes, skunks, raccoons, rats and all manner of wildlife.
Four bears were killed in Maple Ridge last year over conflicts with humans, mostly the latter failing to heed repeated calls to keep their garbage secure.
B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service reported that Maple Ridge, along with Mission, lead in nuisance calls last year, despite a Bear Aware program that’s been in operation since 2012.