Residents along Maple Ridge’s forest fringes are not getting the message – and they’re helping to make fed bears, dead bears.
Following a four-day blitz last week, city bylaws and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service wrote 313 warning letters to Maple Ridge homeowners, telling them they could get fined $100 for putting their green waste and garbage at curbside before 5 a.m. on pickup day.
Another 12 tickets were issued for the offence.
For the last year and a half, bylaws and the conservation service have been trying to reduce the number of garbage cans that are left at the end of driveways overnight, when smells from them can entice hungry bruins.
Maple Ridge is not the only city on the north side of the Fraser River that’s trying to keep animals and people apart as new subdivisions creep into the forest.
But it’s occupying its share of time for the conservation service’s Metro Vancouver zone.
“Maple Ridge, in general, is taking up 20 per cent of our call volume, so that’s quite a large amount if you consider the other large cities that are in there,” said Robin Sano, a conservation officer whose territory stretches from North Vancouver to Mission.
Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Port Moody account for most the rest of the time officers spend chasing down bears.
Sano said the Albion area in Maple Ridge was particularly bad with bears strolling through backyards.
“It’s all to do with unsecured garbage, right?
“It is noticeable that the people are not listening to bylaws that are in place.”
Maple Ridge changed its bylaw in 2013, requiring people to wait until 5 a.m. on pickup day before putting out garbage.
Sano said that if an area is reporting a lot of bear sightings and lots of garbage is being left out to entice them, the WildSafeBC coordinator will leave leaflets and letters on homes informing them of the bylaw.
If that doesn’t work, bylaws officers and conservation officers will write letters, followed by tickets, if needed.
It’s been noticed city wide that people are not following the bylaw and people are not keeping their garbage indoors.
“They’re keeping it beside their house and the bears are just ripping into them and coming back. It’s a cycle,” Sano said.
A multiplier effect can also occur. The raccoons, squirrels rats and mice that follow the garbage are also bringing in another dangerous animal – cougars.
“The garbage is attracting all the dangerous predators and rodents that we do not want,” she added.
While Maple Ridge doesn’t require to people to use bear-proof containers for their garbage or green waste, the city is subsidizing the cost of a limited number of them by having them for sale at the Ridge Meadows Recycling depot for $100.
And if people do get issued a ticket there might be a way out of it. Conservation officers or bylaw officers may decide, on a case-by-case basis, to waive a ticket if a homeowner buys a bear-proof container.
“If you can get garbage under control, it would probably take the majority of it away,” Sano said.
“We really want to get the education out before we start fining.”
In addition to city fines, residents also could be stung with a heavier $230 fine under provincial law for not clearing up garbage.
“Garden sheds, garbage cans with a bungee cord across it, or placing garbage beside residences is not acceptable when dealing with a bear who can peel a car door off its hinges.”
Despite the number of warning letters written this month, Maple Ridge is applying to become the first city in Metro Vancouver to be designated a Bear Smart Community by the Ministry of Environment because of its proactive steps at reducing wildlife conflicts.
Last year, only five bears were killed in Maple Ridge, a reduction from previous years, when as many as 30 bears had to be shot within a year. Sometimes, however, problem bears are relocated out of the community.
Maple Ridge’s WildSafeBC coordinator, Dan Mikolay, said in January that the Albion area had been a bear aware success story, saying that most people were following the bylaw and not putting out their trash before 5 a.m.
Albion resident Elizabeth Taylor, though, said bears are still causing problems in the area and says it’s no different than last year.
“Everybody probably thinks they’re doing a good job.”
But people are still leaving garbage in the back of their trucks.
They’re also holding on to their trash longer in order to save collection fees, which increases the time that the garbage is around attracting wildlife, she added.
Taylor said with several private companies picking up garbage on Maple Ridge streets, homes sometimes get missed and garbage is left at curbside.
Last week, she saw garbage left outside 15 homes the night before pickup day.
Recent arrivals to the area also think there is city-wide pickup, she said.
Other cities are ahead of Maple Ridge when it comes to making garbage or green waste containers bear proof or bear resistant.
• By next year, the District of North Vancouver will provide all homes with bear-resistant containers or carts for green waste and kitchen waste. Costs for those will be tacked on to residents’ utility charges.
• In Coquitlam, residents already have to use wildlife-resistant green carts.
• In Port Moody, residents have to use bear-resistant containers in areas near the forests, said Kim Day with Ridge Meadows Recycling Society.
• Port Coquitlam gives residents some options.
If they have a secure garage or shed and don’t put out their garbage before 5:30 a.m. on pickup day, residents don’t need wildlife-resistant locks on their containers.
But those who don’t have garages or sheds, must use a lock on their containers.
Even during the week when the containers are empty, Port Coquitlam requires residents to store their containers inside.
Although Maple Ridge relies on private companies to collect garbage and green waste, most of those companies will handle bear-resistant containers, Day added.
Sano said that said bears are still a problem in the Tri-Cities area because the change in laws governing garbage containers are relatively recent and many bears in the area are in the habit of free lunches.