The number of bears being killed due to human conflicts in Maple Ridge declined last year, and the city is poised to become the first in the Lower Mainland to be given the status of a Bear Smart Community by the Environment Ministry.
Dan Mikolay, the WildSafe B.C. coordinator in Maple Ridge, said there were five bears killed last year, and six in 2014. That is an improvement from past years, when as many as 30 bears had to be shot in the area.
“Five is a really good number – especially with the weather, drought conditions, that we had,” said Mikolay.
The extremely dry weather in the summer of 2015 meant berry crops came earlier and the fruit was smaller, but that still didn’t create more bear conflicts.
Mikolay said the number of killed bears might have been limited to three, but two juveniles got into a habit of following school children as their school day was ending in the Albion area, and so were considered dangerous.
He said the provincial stats show more communities are doing their part, and the number of bears killed because of human conflicts has dropped from approximately 900 per year to about 300 province-wide.
Becoming Bear Smart involves several steps, such as a formal hazard assessment, and a plan to minimize those hazards. Much of the work is already underway.
A good example was the change in bylaws to limit garbage set-out to 5 a.m. on pickup day, rather than 10 p.m. the night before, he said.
Bear Aware education in schools and for community groups is another important part of the project, and Mikolay does that work.
The city offering bear resistant garbage cans and recycling containers is another important element.
Currently it has bear resistant containers for organic materials. Available through the Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, they would normally retail for $200 each, but with a volume discount and a $50 per unit council subsidy, they will be available for $100, for the first 400 purchased.
“If you have your organics secured, then your garbage is no longer an attractant,” said Mikolay.
He said $100 for a container is not expensive, considering that a home owner could be fined $230 under the Wildlife Act for leaving out an attractant, if they are deemed to have not been responsible in disposing of their household waste.
The new containers are bear resistant. Mikolay explained that bears are powerful and smart enough that no commercially available container can boast to being truly bear proof, but these bear resistant containers can convince them that there is an easier meal to be had elsewhere.
Mikolay said the neighbourhood around 240th Street and 102nd Avenue has been a bear aware success story.
“That’s been really, really successful – everybody’s gotten on board,” he said, and that is measured by the fact that almost nobody puts their garbage out early anymore.
Mikolay said the Bear Smart designation is a credit to Maple Ridge.
“Not only would it mean we’re more aware of wildlife, but we would also be one of the first in the Lower Mainland to really take it seriously.”
Criteria for Bear Smart communities:
• prepare a bear hazard assessment of the community and surrounding area;
• prepare a bear/human conflict management plan that is designed to address the bear hazards and land-use conflicts identified in the previous step;
• revise planning and decision-making documents to be consistent with the bear/human conflict management plan;
• implement a continuing education program, directed at all sectors of the community;
• develop and maintain a bear-proof municipal solid waste management system;
• implement “Bear Smart” bylaws prohibiting the provision of food to bears as a result of intent, neglect, or irresponsible management of attractants.