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Season of the bear
The fact that so many grizzlies are being seen in and around Kimberley this year is not all that unusual, say provincial government wildlife experts, and may just indicate that the grizzly population in this area is quite healthy. And it is the time of year for bears to be visible around town.
They have definitely been visible in Kimberley, including a visit of longer than a week by two juvenile grizzlies in September, and a recent elk kill on the Lois Creek Trails where a grizzly was seen by Conservation Officers, who removed the kill to encourage the bears to move on.
Out in the valley, there have been several grizzly sightings as well.
Susan Bond – who lives out on LD Ranch Road and, with her partner Peter Moody, was the victim of a grizzly attack last November when they surprised a sow with two cubs at a recent kill – has been trying to keep track of grizzly sightings since then. She says there have been several grizzly sightings in the Wycliffe/Wood's Corner area in recent weeks.
"There have been several sightings of a lone large grizzly very close to our place plus cattle kills on Crown range just to the south of us," she said. "The grazing tenure holder at Pine Butte Ranch (Wycliffe) has lost two adult cows to grizzlies, two calves have simply disappeared, and one calf had bite/claw marks but lived. There was general astonishment hereabouts that big adult cows had been taken down and killed by grizzlies but the kills were confirmed by COs. Tracks indicated possibly a sow with two cubs."
Lots of sightings, probably more than usual, but why?
“In terms of population, grizzly bear populations grow slowly, so even if the population were rising, it would not be noticeable anecdotally in a single year. It is likely a localized event,” said Brennan Clark at the Ministry of Lands, Forests and Natural Resource Operations.
“Bears (grizzly and black alike) usually enter interface areas at this time more often when natural food sources are scarce. However, 2013 was a good berry year, and so a scarcity of food would not likely be the cause of increased bear sightings.”
Dr. Bruce McLellan is a wildlife research biologist for the provincial government, who also lived in Ta Ta Creek and Marysville in the ‘70s and ‘80s and therefore has some knowledge of the area.
He says the grizzly population in this area is on the rise.
“Yes, grizzly populations grow slowly, but they do grow,” McLellan said. “I think that in general, the grizzly bear populations in southeast B.C. have been doing well and increasing over the past few decades and, as a result, we will have years when we have more bears near and even into towns. This has been happening in the Elk Valley for the past couple of decades.”
McLellan says that increased sightings are often due to a poor berry crop, but agrees that it has been a pretty good berry season thus far. However, he says the fact that domestic fruit trees in Kimberley seem to be loaded is a very strong attractant. Removing the elk kill was a good move by COs, he says, because a kill can attract other bears from quite a distance.
As for the two juveniles who wandered into town and appeared to like it — it may not have happened in Kimberley recently, but it’s not that unusual.
“Having two three-year-olds, that separated from their mother last spring, enter a town is not unusual for places like Fernie, Sparwood, or Bella Coola. There are often (maybe even always) grizzly bears in or near these towns,” McLellan said.
With a healthy grizzly population, and with large numbers of black bears as well, McLellan urges people to be bear aware and manage attractants, picking fruit and cutting down fruit trees if you don’t want the fruit. He says he makes a good batch of hard cider each year himself. Good Bear Aware programs are essential in areas of healthy grizzly populations.
“Bear managers have increasing challenges when ‘the public’, from across BC and even the world, are asking for often opposing management goals.”
Biologists seem to agree that grizzly numbers are at least healthy, if not up. And so do those who spend a lot of time in the backcountry. Larry Shannon, 77, of Kimberley, has operated a trap line up the St. Mary Valley, first in Matthew Creek, then Dewar Creek, since he was 15. He says there are more bears “up above” in recent years.
“There’s more sign,” Shannon said. “I believe there are more bears around but I’m not sure I know the reason. But there is way less game up above but lots around town so maybe the grizzly is following the game. Just like there were no deer in Marysville when I was a kid. I think the grizzlies are following the game and the berries.”
All bear sightings should be reported to the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7957. Please call the RAPP line rather than police unless it is an emergency. Police will assist COs in a public safety situation but are not the go-to agency to report bear encounters.