It has been a deadly year for bears in Maple Ridge, with 13 being shot.
In a typical year, only three are killed.
“It’s dramatically higher, but a lot of communities are reporting the same thing,” said Dan Mikolay, WildSafeBC community coordinator.
He said city staff is drafting new bylaws for council to offer bears greater protection. The fine for leaving out garbage and other attractants could increase to $500.
“It has been a really unusual year for bears,” Mikolay said, noting there were five bears, that he knows of, hit by cars in Maple Ridge so far.
He believes there are a number of reasons for increased conflicts, from low salmon returns and poor berry crops to mother bears leaving their cubs earlier – all due to conditions in the environment.
This week, Jennifer Lam of Maple Ridge wanted to highlight the need to protect a mother bear and her two cubs, which have been grazing on garbage in a residential neighbourhood along Dewdney Trunk Road and 236th Street.
She said the bears typically appear a few times a week, and neighbours fear they will end up being shot by conservation officers.
“We want to demand a relocation process,” she said. “Many of my neighbours are concerned for the welfare of the bears that are trying to survive.”
Sgt. Todd Hunter, of the Conservation Officer Service, said relocating bears is not an exact science. Officers have to consider whether a bear has become habituated to human food sources or dangerously lost its fear of humans.
He noted that bears wandering Silver Valley neighbourhoods were relocated, but soon returned to the subdivisions.
“They came right back into the community after the berry season, and right into garbage. It’s easy food.”
Hunter urges the public to continue reporting bear conflicts.
“A lot of people are not reporting stuff, in order to circumnavigate us dealing with it,” he said. “That’s the worst thing they can do.
“There could be an issue where a person could be hurt, injured or killed.”
He said relocation can be a viable option.
“The best option is to manage the attractants,” he added.
Mikolay said the city can do more.
The current enforcement process of warning residents before fining them $200 for putting out garbage or leaving out other attractants is apparently not working.
Because residents effectively get a second and even third chance to amend their behaviour before being fined, there is time for bears to become habituated to human food sources.
He would like bylaw changes by March, yet another education blitz, followed by enforcement and fines as high as $500.
This same approach and fine total reduced early garbage put-outs by 70 per cent in Coquitlam, said Mikolay.
“The goal isn’t to fine, the goal is to eliminate attractants,” he added.
Going further with bylaw changes, there is also consideration of requiring future townhome developments be built with secure garbage storage.
Currently, there are units where residents keep their waste in carports, which are open to bears and other wildlife.
There is no place for residents to keep their garbage inside.
Mikolay will be working with residents in carport complexes to find ways to secure garbage.
“It’s more important to find solutions than it is to go out and issue fines,” said Mikolay.
Susan Zanders, of the group Maple Ridge Bears, which tries to reduce bear conflicts, said east Maple Ridge is a thoroughfare for bears. Her volunteer group has tried to educate the public about attractants.
“That’s an active area that we flyer, and some of those areas have been flyered twice,” said Zanders.
She is on board with higher fines because people still leave out attractants.
So a mother bear, like the one reported by Lam, is literally teaching her cubs to eat garbage and other food left near houses.
“If you get rid of the garbage, they will go into their natural spaces and look for food there. They need to get fat, and they don’t have a lot of time,” said Zanders.
“If we haven’t got that area cleaned up, we will have a lot of bears being shot next spring.”