COCHRANE— Bear sightings are on the rise, and a wildlife conflict biologist is calling on residents to take smart mitigation action.
Human-Wildlife Conflict Biologist with Alberta Environment and Parks Jay Honeyman works to develop proactive mitigation techniques designed to prevent negative interactions with wildlife.
His ultimate goal is to prevent a bear from reaching a point where Fish and Wildlife officers will have to intervene and remove it from an environment.
“I’m trying to put them out of a job,” Honeyman said with a chuckle.
In Cochrane, there has been an increase in active bears. There is at least one bear in town that has been getting into unnatural attractants, including beehives at the north end of the community.
He explained there is the potential for garbage, gardens, compost and bird feeders serving as attractants for bears as they emerge from hibernation.
Typically bears are waking up hungry and looking for food, he said, and some of the places that green up first are where bears can be found— This includes well sites, golf courses, road ditches and in people’s backyards.
“There is a need to secure human foods from these bears wheresoever possible— That’s what’s driving them right now, the need to get something to eat,” Honeyman said. “There’s a lot of food available right now in people’s back yards right now I suspect.”
Honeyman encouraged residents to make it a goal to make unnatural foods unavailable to bears, so the animals have no reason to come into town.
“That basically means residents have to take some responsibility in the management of bears in their area by securing foods bears might be interested in,” Honeyman said.
Garbage issues exist in Cochrane because some people put out the garbage the night before pick-up and this is a buffet for wildlife.
Bear proof garbage cans are available to buy for residents, Honeyman said, but garbage can also be secured in the garage or in storage until the morning of a weekly pick-up.
“The longer it sits there [outside] the greater the chances something is going to find it and get into it,” Honeyman said.
He noted Canmore installed bear-proof garbage cans 20 years and the result was next to zero garbage-related bear issues in town.
Bird feeders also serve as an attractant for bears. The spillage from bird feeders can also attract bears and deer. The deer in turn could attract cougars.
During the bear season several communities do not allow for bird feeders, he said, and they actively discourage people using them.
If a resident chooses to put a bird feeder, Honeyman recommends hanging feeders as high as possible to keep them out of the reach of hungry bears.
When living in bear country, Honeyman said, he recommends putting up electric fencing around all gardens, compost and bee hives. This would not apply to people living in the middle of Cochrane as they would not have as many bear issues as someone living on the periphery of town.
The more a bear visits town in search of food, the chances of officers intervening to trap and relocate the animal increases.
Honeyman said they try to avoid trapping and relocating bears unless it is necessary because bears struggle when they are moved to a new environment.
“Generally, bears aren’t interested in seeing you, they’re not that interested in people,” Honeyman said. “[If you see a bear] stop and slowly back away and that going to be the end of your bear story.”
If bears are continually coming into town and successfully getting food on a property, they can become a little more determined to get food and could show fewer signs of wanting to move off if they encounter humans.
“That’s when we have a real problem once they start to become what we call ‘food-conditioned,” Honeyman said. “Instead of just moving through the area they’re actually coming to your place for food.”
Food conditioned bears are animals that tend to potentially be a little more aggressive toward people because they are motivated to get their meal.
As Cochrane grows, especially in the river valley, bear interactions are likely to increase. Honeyman said there have been many bears in the area for years, and he continues to see bear problems on the edges of town and in the river valley.
“That is not going to stop because you are living in an area that has a lot of wildlife on the edge of town,” Honeyman said. “The bears are having to adjust their movement for the developments.”
He added when people are walking in areas where bears are known to live, they should be aware, carry bear spray, keeps dogs on a leash and if you do have negative encounters with wildlife call the Report a Poacher at 1-800-642-3800.
“Residents have a responsibility to not encourage bears to be in Cochrane and that really does come down to the availability of food,” Honeyman said. “If people can make that food not available, they’re not going to have any bear issues.”