Human-bear conflict down in Invermere and Radium

As the local Bear Aware program wraps up its first year, community co-ordinator Crystal Leonard is celebrating this year's statistics.

As the Invermere and Radium Bear Aware program wraps up its first year, community co-ordinator Crystal Leonard is celebrating this year’s statistics.

The number of problem bruins destroyed in Invermere and Radium fell this year, with only one bear put down by conservation officers in Invermere.

In 2010, six bears were put down, five in Radium, one in Invermere.

“I think it was a really successful program. It got the word out a lot,” says Leonard, who made school presentations, went door to door and hosted other educational events to make the community aware of items on their properties that could be attracting bears, including garbage, fruit and bird feed.

“A lot of attractants were taken down after talking with people and letting them know things,” she adds.

“People were really receptive and wanting to get information.”

One of this year’s most measurably successful programs was the Bear Aware garbage raiding, which saw Leonard roam both communities after dark, looking for households that had put garbage out for collection early.

“I would put a sticker on their garbage can. It would be a big, bright yellow sticker that said ‘bear attractant’ on it,” she says. In the first rounds of the raids, she tagged 42 cans. A week later, only 14 were out before the proper pick up time.

While Leonard praises the community’s support of the Bear Aware program, she  notes that it’s not just problem bears that didn’t appear this year — the overall number of bears spotted in the area appears to have gone down as well.

However, she’s not sure if that’s because of a good berry crop in the mountains, or because residents aren’t reporting many of their bear sightings.

“I think there were definitely still a lot of bears out, but it’s really hard to say because there weren’t a whole lot of bears getting called into the conservation officer service line,” she says.

“But when I’d go door-to-door I got a lot of reports just through word of mouth and people saying, ‘oh, a bear got into my garbage a month ago.'”

Leonard thinks people may be reluctant to call conservation officers because they’re worried bears will be put down, but she says the service is more likely to send her out to do door-to-door education if the bear isn’t seriously dependent on human food.

The only black bear destroyed in Invermere this year had already caused property damage and begun foraging for garbage during the day — not typical bear behaviour — before it was put down.

Getting more residents to report signings is one of Leonard’s main goals when bears come back out of hibernation.

She’s also hoping to form a Bear Smart Committee of community volunteers, and put together a fruit harvesting team to pick produce for those who can’t manage their own trees or bushes.

“I really want the communities to focus on fruit harvesting — getting that fruit down at a reasonable time,” she adds. “And from the beginning of April, to just not leave garbage out.”