The District of Maple Ridge has been keeping conservation officers on their toes by generating the most complaints about problem bears in B.C. this year.
Since April to date, the Ministry of Environment has received 518 complaints from the municipality about bears. In that time, at least six bears have been killed.
“In the Maple Ridge area, plain and simple, it’s just a garbage issue,” said conservation officer Cody Ambrose, who is now working with the district on a Bear Aware program to help keep the hungry bruins away from urban areas.
“Bears are very lazy so when they get a good food source, they’ll stick with it instead of eating berries.”
The Bear Aware strategy will educate residents about their role in the destruction of bears and will launch sometime in the fall, in conjunction with updates to bylaws governing waste management that will restrict when garbage can be put out.
The push for the new rules follows the rather public death of a young bruin who was shot in front of shocked onlookers in June in Maple Ridge Park.
Wounded on its front left leg, the two-and-a-half-year-old male bear had been frequenting the park on 232nd Street near Fern Crescent for an easy meal from garbage cans for at least a month.
The district received several calls and emails from residents who were upset by the shooting.
“That really affected people,” said director of communications Fred Armstrong.
“It’s certainly not something we like seeing happen.”
The most effective and natural way to prevent conflicts with bears in urban areas is to put away attractants, such as garbage, bird seed, compost and fruit.
The district contemplated tweaking rules around waste disposal three years ago, but never got around to it.
In communities that have bylaws in place to prevent human and wildlife encounters, there has been a decline in related bear-human conflict and the number of bears that have to be destroyed.
The nearby municipalities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody only allow garbage to be put at the curb between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. on collection days.
Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam also require residents to have “wildlife-resistant” containers, or are required to lock garbage up in a garage or secure shed.
In Port Moody, residents can be fined $100 if an animal gets into their garbage, while Coquitlam’s penalties are as high as $500.
But before penalizing residents with hefty fines, Maple Ridge intends to educate them to be “Bear Aware.”
Armstrong notes that residents who live near Maple Ridge Park, where the bear was shot, use its trash cans to dispose of household garbage instead of driving to the Metro Vancouver dump site.
When the trash cans are full, families who have parties in the park often leave left-over salty and sugary treats next to them, instead of carrying the garbage back home.
The district has already installed 50 “bear-proof” bins in parks in the eastern portion of the municipality, where most of the bear sightings are reported.
The Ministry of Environment’s Conservation Officer Service received 23,240 reports of bear sightings between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011 in B.C.
During that time, conservation officers attended 2,827 incidents in which bears were acting aggressively or public safety was an issue. As a result, 120 bears were relocated, while 675 bears had to be destroyed.
• To report an aggressive bear (bluff charging, damaging property), call 1-877-952-7277.