The following article and photos were contributed by local WildSafeBC Community Officer, Francine Ulmer.
It was a great experience returning four bears to prime bear habitat outside Powell River this past week. Local Conservation Officers Gerry Lister and Andrew Anaka work hard to protect the pubic as well as the bears, said WildSafeBC Community Coordinator Francine Ulmer. “While out enjoying the forests over the Victoria Day -May long weekend, be aware of new cubs in the backcountry,” she said.
Human – bear conflict in the fall of 2015 broke records last year in Powell River said WildSafeBC Community Coordinator Francine Ulmer. “The combination of a summer drought and an abundance of human food sources led to increased numbers of bears in town,” she said. “A record 36 bears were destroyed by Conservation Officers in an effort to provide public safety. Numerous houses were broken into by young bears resulting in property damage. Five bears were struck by motor vehicles and one person was attacked by a sow with cubs.”
Francine said non-natural food sources, called “attractants” are part of the problem. “Attractants are unsecured garbage, unpicked fruit and nut trees, improperly maintained compost piles, out of season bird feeders and illegally dumped food scraps,” she said. “Bears are opportunistic omnivores with a keen sense of smell and a memory of where they found attractants. Urban food sources lead to bears losing a natural fear of humans because the food reward outweighs their fear.A sow with cubs will pass this feeding behaviour on to cubs and the cycle of food conditioning continues.”
Francine said early last fall, local Conservation Officers warned that the bears would not be going into the den with sufficient fat stores to ensure proper implantation of an embryo for spring cubs. “In the fall, during hyperphagia, bears need up to 20,000 calories a day to prepare for winter survival,” Francine said. “Additionally, a higher level of cub of the year abandonment is likely to occur in years with poor wild food sources.”
From late September to early November, across the province, reports of abandoned cubs wandering the streets alone were reported to the Conservation Officer Service. Local Conservation Officer, Gerry Lister, said that “anecdotal information that is coming out right now is that nobody’s seeing new born cubs this year and there’s very few bears coming out with yearling cubs.”
Last fall, Powell River sent three female cubs and one male cub to Critter Care in the Lower Mainland for care over the winter. Conservation Officer Andrew Anaka described the cubs as “runty” and weighing between 20 t0 25 lbs in the fall. “This spring the cubs now weigh between 80 and 100 lbs,” Francine said. “Public demand has led to using rehabilitation programs for winter care of abandoned or orphaned cubs, yet the scientific community lacks agreement on whether bear rehabilitation programs are successful in returning bears to the wild.”
Francine said a main concern is that bears fed by humans and raised in a captive environment lose their natural fear of humans. “There is a public safety concern with releasing large and potentially dangerous wildlife close to human food sources,” she said. “Bear rehabilitation is a costly undertaking and we lack scientific evidence on whether orphaned cubs are able to survive on their own if left in the wild.”
Wednesday afternoon Conservation Officers drove far outside of Powell River to ensure the cubs would not find their way to town. Finding an isolated location is difficult said Conservation Officer Andrew Anaka. “There is virtually no place we can release a bear where there aren’t people. There are campers, hikers, bikers, there’s always somebody,” he said.
These three cubs were released together into a clear where there was an abundance of ripe salmonberries and skunk cabbage shoots. “Many more berries will be ripening soon so there will be lost of food for the bears,” WildSafeBC Office Francine Ulmer said.
The largest bear was released further up the clearcut slash and was set free on her own because she was more mature and did not bond with the other bears. “While we hope for the best for the bears, we must keep in mind that we share the same forest and by being mindful of how we live, work and play and grow, we can help keep wildlife wild and communities safe,” Francine said.
For more information, contact WildSafeBC Community Coordinator, Francine Ulmer, at firstname.lastname@example.org and like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WildSafeBC-District-of-Powell-River-1431311540510264/ to view more photos of the release.