Black bears are awakening from their winter sleep and will be searching for food in the coming weeks. To avoid attracting bears

How not to attract hungry bears

Black bears are starting to wake up from winter hibernation and will soon be moving through Summerland.

Black bears are starting to wake up from winter hibernation and will soon be moving through Summerland in search of food, water and shelter.

It’s the time of year when residents need to manage food attractants to avoid clashes with bears.

Garbage, pet food and even bird feeders can attract hungry bears to homes in Summerland where they can become a nuisance.

Zoe Kirk, the Bear Aware WildSafeBC coordinator for the Regional District of Similkameen, has advice for householders in the South Okanagan.

She says the bears have enjoyed a long sleep this winter, with temperatures neither too cold or too warm for comfort. If the good weather continues, bears will start waking up and moving around from mid- to late March. They will leave their dens in search of water, food, fresh air and sunshine.

Cubs will have been born in the warmth of the den sometime from mid-January and early February.

Because of the pressures of nursing cubs and lack of food, sows can lose up to 35 per cent of their body weight.

“So, when they emerge in the spring, they are thirsty and hungry. Add maternal protection and it easy to understand why we need to be extra cautious about managing our attractants to reduce the chances of luring them into our yards and neighbourhoods,” said Kirk.

“Using traditional travel routes, spring will see sows, cubs, adolescent bears and big boars (mature male bears) moving up and down the creek beds and pathways between available water, food sources and their dens.

“Sows will often use backyards, where perhaps they have enjoyed meals, as temporary shelter, especially if they fear a big male bear may be in the area. Boars are known to attack young cubs, so for the first few months sows are extra protective and can be a bit more defensive if they feel provoked,” said Kirk.

“Over the winter, we can get a bit lackadaisical about our garbage and refuse habits.”

She said year-round best practice around the home is to keep garbage locked up and secure until the morning of pick up.

Summerlanders are still permitted to place trash at the curb the night before pickup. However, some areas of the regional district do not allow trash to go until 5:30 a.m. the day of pickup unless it is contained in a special bear-proof container.

Zoe said recycling is also attractive to bears.

“Recycling can contain plastic food containers that continue to harbour the scents of foods packaged inside. If they are not washed as well as our human dishes, the scent can be really attractive to bears.

“With a nose that is five times better than the best tracking dogs, they can smell a potential meal a long way off.”

She says bird feeders should be taken down by Easter and stored till next Christmas season.

Beehives should be secured by perimeter fencing, and any pet or livestock feed should be well secured in a barn, shed or garage.

“Even if your area does not fall under a curbside garbage bylaw, it is sensible to implement the same protocols around garbage and recycling. Not only are the largest predators thwarted by such actions, but rats, racoons, dogs and coyotes are also curtailed from spreading garbage.”