(Originally published in the Merritt News –Othmar Vohringer The Outdoorsman)
Part 1 of BC Bear Facts
© By Othmar Vohringer
Ten years after the decision to cancel the spring bear hunt, the rural and urban Ontario people are now living in constant fear of bears attacking children and breaking into houses. In other words, in many rural areas of Ontario, bears have been declared a nuisance animal. Just like here, the people were "educated" about bear-safe behaviour, and there are even ridiculous bylaws in place, like having filters on kitchen fans so bears can't smell when dinner is cooked. Yet, despite all these bear attractant prevention measures, the numbers of marauding bears are on a continued increase.
Bears are fiercely territorial, so much so that they will not share their territory with other bears. Male bears in particular continually patrol their territories and attack every other bear, including their own male offspring, for trespassing on their territory. Because of this behaviour, relocating them has never been successful. This very expensive and utterly useless practice of relocation has been the method in many rural areas throughout British Columbia. A few years ago in North Vancouver, a captured marauding bear had been equipped with a radio transmitter and then transported 600 miles north—far away from any human development. Within two years, that bear was back in North Vancouver and eventually had to be shot by conservation officers. Until that event, taxpayers spent a fortune on a useless feel-good policy to mollify the minority of people that believe that bears should have more rights than people.
So, what will be the next step to prevent bear and human conflicts? Perhaps people could install bear-proof steel doors and window shutters on their houses, in addition to 10-feet-high electric fences around their properties. Do you think that this would go to far? In some areas of Ontario, that is exactly what people had to do to be safe from bears. But that security didn't last long. Bears are smart and, above all, determined critters. Once they make their minds up to get something, they will find a way to get it, no matter the hurdles they have to overcome. Once bears learn that human communities are an easy food source, they will forsake all other means of obtaining food.
The experience in Ontario has shown that no matter what people do to discourage bears, it doesn't work. If we were to keep all the garbage cans indoors, cut down every fruit tree, or build a 10-foot-high fence around our properties, the bears would still come. They would come into our communities and not because, as is often falsely reported, that they run out of food in the wild but because human communities offer bears shelter from other bears and provide them with plentiful easily available food, such as flowers, pets, and even humans. A ten-year study, conducted by Dr. Stephen Hererro across the U.S. and Canada, has shown that bear attacks on humans are seldom carried out by a female protecting her young. According to the study, most bear attacks are deliberately carried out by bears hunting for food. The study also has proven that most of the bears entering human habitat do so to hunt. To them, humans are just another potentially tasty and easy critter to catch.
So what can we do to prevent the rising number of bears from entering our fair city of Merritt? Using common sense, by putting garbage cans in a place where bears have no access, picking fallen fruit, and removing other bear attractants will help. But above all, we need to remove a lot more bears from the population and that means more bear hunting. Currently, hunters can shoot two bears per any given year here in region 3, and that should be raised to three bears per year. To make bear hunting more attractive, the current law that requires hunters to remove all edible parts of a bear should be reverted to the original law that left it up to the hunters if they wanted to keep the meat or not. While some hunters like the taste of bears, most are not so keen on it, and others are of the opinion that bear meat is inedible, especially in areas where bears live off dead salmon. It is the latter hunters that gave up bear hunting altogether when the government instituted that new game law. It was a law that came about to "justify" bear hunting to non-hunters.
It is my belief that unless our government stops beating around the bush and tells the city people that there are times when we, in the interest of wildlife conservation, have to take drastic measurements and cull game populations or else we will never solve the bear problem. It is also my firm belief that bears should never be tolerated anywhere near humans and that rural people should never be held hostage to bears just to mollify big city thinking. Dr. Valerius Geist, North America's most notable wildlife biologist, has, on numerous occasions, said that the B.C. grizzly and black bear population has grown to numbers that necessitate the removal of bears near human habitat to "warrant the safety of humans." He's also quoted as saying, "Human safety is paramount to feel-good bear conservation carried out by armchair biologists."
Here is hoping that one day soon our government officials are more concerned with proper bear conservation and the safety of rural and suburban people rather than only considering the misguided opinions of biased interest groups and the inner-city people's votes.