Despite some early leniency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, wildlife officials are now set to crack down on people putting bears at risk in Prince George by being careless with attractants.
The warning from conservation officers comes after the first “problem bear” of the season had to be destroyed, and a trap set for a second bear in a residential area.
About 35 bears are killed in Prince George each year; most of them euthanized after becoming habituated to unsecured garbage, pet food, and backyard fruit.
“We trying our best … and the public just doesn’t get it,” said Sgt. Steve Ackles of the B.C. Conservation Officers Service.
Ackles said he’s frustrated and angry that some people are still ignoring the call to lock down their bear attractants.
“We get complaints that ‘a bear’s been on my back porch three times now into my bird feeder.’ They ask when are we going to do something about it. We have to come and basically protect the public from themselves. And they’re not the ones that have to, you know, euthanize the bear,” he said.
Still, Ackles said that because of the pandemic, wildlife officials have been reluctant to crack down this spring.
“If people are out of work and stressed out with COVID, I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
‘The bears don’t deserve to die’
But not anymore.
Ackles said it’s now time for zero tolerance. He’s instructed his officers to step up patrols
People who leave out dog food or roll their garbage cans to the curb too early could be slapped with a $230 fine.
“These are unprecedented times, I understand that. But … the bears don’t deserve to die,” said Ackles.
Meanwhile, city officials are turning to warning signs to keep bears alive — and locals safe.
Warning signs for ‘high hazard areas’
A city carpenter has just pounded in the first “Bear Aware” alert sign at Moore’s Meadow, a popular off-leash dog area with steep forest paths and open fields.
Another 74 signs will be added along river trails, forests, and parks in places officials call “high bear hazard areas.”
City strategic planner Laurie Kosec says the bear alert signs are especially helpful as people start to leave self-isolation to spend time in nature.
“Everywhere in the world right now, we’re seeing wildlife venture out more into our urban areas, because people have been frequenting these areas less,” said Kosec. “You always have to be aware.”
That’s something on the mind of conservation officer Ackles as well. “With COVID, there is speculation from scientists that with the inactivity of people and industry, bears and other wildlife will feel more at ease, in more areas.”
Even before COVID, Prince George had some of the highest number of human-bear conflicts in the province. “Unfortunately we also have the highest number of destroyed bears per capita, as well,” said Kosec.
“All of Prince George is bear habitat and it’s really important to help people stay safe in bear country,” said Kosec.