A sub-adult black bear who became habituated to humans at the Town & Country Mobile Park south of Ladysmith was put down on Tuesday and now a second bear seen roaming in town could be next after recently bluff charging a conservation officer twice.
The Conservation Office Central Island, which covers Deep Bay to Chemainus and out to the coast, received 25 bear calls for the town since May 1 which already amounts to half the expected average for the year.
Residents at the mobile home park next to the Trans-Canada Highway made the large majority of those calls after growing uncomfortably accustomed to close encounters with the bear.
Jan Matthews said the animal regularly used her yard as a pass thru as it roamed around seemingly unfazed by human activity.
“I moved into the park at the end of October and the first thing the neighbours told me was watch out for the bear,” she said. “It’s been escalating and the last few weeks it was scary.”
Another resident was spooked into her shed when the bear walked up her driveway.
Conservation officers took steps to educate residents at the park about food sources that may be attracting the bear, likely only about three years old.
“If you were to call and say there’s a bear in my yard we’d tell you to put your garbage away, make sure there’s not bird feeders out and make sure there’s no pet food outside,” said Central Island conservation officer Stuart Bates.
“We’ve had success over the years when people listen to us that the bear learns after coming back a few times that there’s no food source anymore and it moves on.”
Still, even as late as two weeks after getting the initial calls conservation officers were hearing from people at the park about the bear scavenging through garbage bags.
Park managers Alana and George Newton have regularly informed residents about keeping their property clean, including in a newsletter sent last fall.
“We as humans have to know that this is their natural habitat,” Alana said. “We’re not happy that the bear had to die. That was the last resort. We were hoping they would trap it and relocate it. Unfortunately the behaviour of the people who live here, by leaving the garbage out, the compost out, had attracted him and he got comfortable and too friendly.”
Conservation officers typically issue warnings first but are also legally allowed to write a $230 ticket for not ‘securing an attractant,’ meaning putting garbage in a shed or animal-proof container.
“Garbage was exactly the case in this one and he wasn’t just accessing garbage at the trailer park he was also accessing it at houses across the highway,” Bates said, adding that the bear was active during the day and “getting hard for people to scare off.”
A culvert trap was then set in Matthews’ yard for just over a week but the bear was smart enough to avoid it.
Across Vancouver Island there is an estimated one black bear for every two square kilometres so encounters with humans whether on trails or in backyards is common.
Bates emphasized that calling to report a bear sighting doesn’t mean it will be shot and that the animals “are never removed based on their presence, they’re always removed based on their behaviour.”
Hazing bears using rubber bullets and bean bags has also been effective in cases of early intervention.
“You can see that a bear that has lost its fear of people, is conditioned to unnatural sources of food and is coming around people is going to be a problem,” Bates added.
Matthews hopes to distribute door hangers to neighbours to avoid a repeated incident in the future.
Now, just north of Town & Country Mobile Home Park, officers are trying to track down a second bear who has also grown all too comfortable with people to the point of acting aggressively to try and chase away a conservation officer.
There have been numerous reports on social media of the bear being seen in a residential neighbourhood behind Coronation Mall.
“That bear will be euthanized the first chance we get,” Bates said. “We try to prevent people from getting attacked. Through our experience and training we have learned at what stage a bear needs to be removed.”