SULLIVAN: We all share the blame for B.C bear killings
Over the last couple of years, I’ve sort of established a tradition for this column.
Every year, around this time of year, I write about bears, mainly about the conflict between bears and people and how it always comes out bad for the bears.
This year is no different; or more accurately, its’s different because it’s worse.
Last year at this time, 145 bears were killed in British Columbia. For being bears. That doesn’t include the number of bears hunted for mere sport. These bruins were dispatched for doing what comes naturally: foraging for food and protecting their young. The problem is bears become habituated to the easy pickin’s in people’s trash cans, orchards and bird feeders. So we kill them because we can’t think of anything else to do with them, a fatal failure of the imagination.
This year’s tally is just out and, incredibly, nearly 500 bears have been killed by conservation officers, 469 black bears and 27 grizzlies across the province. As usual, on the North Shore, we’re doing our part: on Aug. 1, Brent Richter in the North Shore News reported that six bears had been killed so far this year for being bears in North and West Vancouver. Three of the bears started life as the darlings of West Van and then they grew up, unfortunately, with a taste for people food, a crime calling for capital punishment, so they didn’t make it through their second summer. Sophomore slump.
I guess we should be thankful that the number of bears put down is a relatively small percentage of the total number of wildlife complaints in B.C. This year there have been more than 20,000 complaints about wildlife, the vast majority – 14,000 – about black bears, 430 about grizzlies.
No report on the complaints from bears about humans.
I’m not sure why I have taken to writing this annual lament about the plight of the bears. The rising toll makes it clear that the problem is getting worse. And I can’t see it getting better: more people mean more encounters with wildlife, all ending badly for the wildlife. We kill more bears each year, and then tempt the rest with more tasty garbage.
It’s almost as if we’re luring them to their demise.
So it’s clear my annual tirade is not working on people; maybe it’s time to head into the woods and warn the bears to stay away from people. That could be dangerous. Bears don’t write letters to the editor.
I get it. I realize that bears are big predators that pose a hazard to humans, and that the provincial government just thinks it’s being responsible when it puts down problem bears.
But consider the bears. In so many ways, they define the magic of Super, Natural British Columbia. They are at the top of the food chain, emblems of the health of the entire ecosystem. Bears being bears, it’s pretty much up to us to sustain that ecosystem, and that means you and me, not just a team of long-suffering conservation officers who are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to dealing with all these encounters.
Fortunately, we are not alone; we have help. A repository of wisdom and sanity re: bears, the excellent North Shore Black Bear Society, is a mere click away. Did you know, for example, you’ve got a better chance of winning the lottery than being killed by a black bear? That 57 people have been killed by bears in North America in the last 105 years, while 300 are killed by bee stings every year? Killer bees. Maybe conservation officers should carry little bee traps instead of being loaded for bear.
The Bear Society site is not just bear nerd fodder. It also offers a host of handy tips about bear-proofing your home. Clearly, if we all practised bear-proofing as recommended, encounters with bears would plummet. But who wants to pick all the fruit when it’s ripe, or take down their bird feeders during bear season, or go the extra mile on garbage? Better to just call in a bear complaint and let the conservation officers deal with it.
It’s not too late. They’re still wandering around looking for free food. Just make sure they don’t find it at your place. Remember, to paraphrase Smokey, only you can prevent bears from dying needlessly.
And with any luck, you won’t have to get my bear lecture this time next year.
Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna.