Barbecue season sparks bear slaughter in Invermere

Three bears were put down in under a week in Invermere’s CastleRock neighbourhood.

“It shouldn’t have happened, and it’s caused a couple bears to come into conflict with people and probably lose their lives,” said conservation officer Greg Kruger, commenting on an incident in CastleRock over the May long weekend that has since ended in three bears being destroyed.

Over the long weekend, the CastleRock garbage bins quickly filled, resulting in people leaving garbage outside the garbage bins, attracting two hungry bears to the area.

“Over the last week, I noticed that the bin in CastleRock was not a bear-resistant one; I believe both bins used to be bear-resistant. We asked Southeast to switch the bin back but unfortunately, the bears broke into it before it got replaced,” said Andrea Smillie, Wildsafe B.C. community coordinator.

Smillie stressed that the contracting company for the bins, Southeast Disposal, has always been very helpful and responsive with the District of Invermere. However, she stated the district did not ask for the bin to be switched to a non-bear-resistant one.

“We thought it was a standing protocol (having bear-proof bins) with them and talking with the owner of the company as well he’s trying to find out why his staff member may have changed that,” said Chris Prosser, chief administrative officer for the District of Invermere.

While the non-bear-proof bin was in CastleRock for a week before being switched, two bears were attracted to the area in search of an easy food source which they found at the garbage site.

“They’re coming out and moving through that community any time during the day and night. People have attempted to scare them away which has been successful some of the times and sometimes not. When they’re not reacting to human presence we got involved because we consider this to be a public safety issue,” said Kruger.

The conservation service put out a trap to catch the two problem bears after reports throughout the week of the animals getting into garbage and climbing on residents’ decks in search of food.

“What we tell people is if the bear has nothing to eat on that property then it has no reason to stay and won’t stay. All the time it comes down to the bear is there for a reason: it’s either found food or it’s looking for food, or smells something that could be a food source,” said Kruger.

According to Kruger, the bears were going up on decks because the animals had been rewarded, smelling greasy leftovers on barbecues and licking them. On Thursday, June 1st conservation caught a black bear and subsequently destroyed the animal.

Conservation exhausted all options before putting the animal down. Due to a healthy black bear population in the area the animal could not be relocated because there’s no unclaimed territory to take them to.

“When we go out to capture them then basically they’re being targeted to be put down because they’ve learned that behaviour. These bears don’t change,” said Kruger.

Later that afternoon Kruger went back to CastleRock to reset the bear trap when a call came through the call centre of reports of not one but two bears rummaging around CastleRock. What initially was thought to be two problem bears turned out to be three, two of which were roaming together. Within half an hour of the first report of the pair, a second call came in for a bear which broke into a home in the residential area.

“CO’S (Conservation officers) attended, by the time we got there which was pretty quick but by the time we got there the resident was able to both scare and basically push the bear out with a chair out of an open door,” said Kruger. He went on to say “I can’t speak for the bear, I’m not sure if it smelled something it was interested in, but again there’s a high probability that was the case.”

When bears become habituated such as the CastleRock trio the animals will take greater risks to get to a food source, including entering homes.

After Conservation responded to the home that had been broken into they then located one of the bears (the all-black phase bear) and immediately put the animal down. They are continuing to search the area for the final brown phase bear.

“It is surprising for us because traditionally or historically we haven’t had this number of bear issues in CastleRock. That said, these seem to go in cycles and we do know the black bear population is fairly healthy in this area so it’s just one of those things where a high concentration in that area and we can say with confidence that the unsecured garbage was a draw for those bears,” said Kruger.

On the morning of Friday, June 2nd the third and final problem bear in CastleRock was trapped and put down. No further traps will be set in the area unless another problem bear is reported and considered a safety concern for the public.

The root of the conflict with the three bears comes down to the unsecured garbage at the non-bear-proof bins, coupled with non-natural food sources such as barbecues, bird feeders, human and pet food and even lawn clippings.

“Everyone seems to realize that this could have been prevented. It will be very important at this point to ensure proper waste management is maintained, in Castlerock and every community in Invermere,” said Smillie.

Smillie stated that it was just last year that Invermere transfer station got bear-resistant bins. She is now checking other bins around town for non-bear-proof lids to reduce human / bear conflicts throughout the community.

“When it comes to those community bins, the larger garbage bins, the district has to make sure we’re having the right ones out,” said Mayor Gerry Taft.

Taft said the incident at CastleRock is really unfortunate, going on to state, “I don’t think the bear situation is going to magically improve on its own.”

So far this spring Invermere has had four bears put down after one was destroyed in Panorama for learning how to open bear-resistant garbage. The animal fell into a bin and was destroyed by conservation service. With the three bears being destroyed within two days, Invermere’s total of bears put down this year doubled last summer’s two bears that were put down.

With an active bear roaming 13th Avenue in Invermere and another one in Columere Park in Fairmont Hot Spring, conservation is reminding residents to remove all attractants such as garbage, food, and bird seeds from their yards. As well, keep lower level doors and windows closed to prevent any unwanted bear break-ins.