Last June, a resident living on Balsam Way in Whistler was unloading her groceries from her vehicle. Leaving the first set of bags in the kitchen, she went back outside to grab the rest. Imagine her surprise when she tried to take the second set of bags into the house only to discover a bear was in the kitchen! Fortunately, when the bear saw the woman, he left the house – however, he had the presence of mind to grab a bag of groceries in his mouth on his way out!
A decade ago, it was an unusual occurrence for bears to enter people’s homes. But these days, it seems to be happening more and more. So what do you do – first of all, to avoid that kind of situation from happening to you.
The first step is to understand a bit about bears. No bear comes out of the woods and walks into someone’s kitchen, because most wild bears are generally leery of humans. Bears start by coming around the edge of urban areas – sometimes attracted by food and garbage, sometimes curious or just passing through.
This is the point at which they begin to get into trouble though. If the bear that is just passing through finds a meal, he’s likely to be back. Think about it – you’re an animal the size of a bear and you’re living mostly on leaves and berries with ants and grubs for desert (and you think about food the way some guys think about….um, sex). And then you come across a large plastic bag filled with possibly the best selection of eats that you have ever seen in your life…what would you do?
It’s like a buffet for bears. And you know how buffets are: you stuff yourself because the food is all so good and what difference is one more little pancake – and maybe just a tad more maple syrup – going to hurt anyway. You have the best intentions to stay away, but then your good friend calls and you find yourself back at the buffet the next week. It’s the same with the bear – more or less.
Not surprisingly, each time a bear gets rewarded with a meal, he gets bolder and bolder. After the first meal, you’re still a little wary, but after the fifth, you’re downright cocky. Just imagine someone trying to take that chunk of steak from you.
So, what do you do? No, not you the bear, you the person! As soon as that bear comes into an urban area, he needs to know he’s not welcome. “Uh, excuse me Mr. Bear, uh sir, but this is an urban area; that is an area associated with people and uh, well, we’d like to request…”
That may work, but politeness with bears in urban areas is not necessarily the best course of action. Instead, if the bear is outside and not cornered, make the bear feel as uncomfortable as possible. Pretend it’s your dog and he’s just chewed something really expensive – like the seat in your Porche – into a thousand pieces and you’re rather upset. But first make sure the bear has a clear escape route, with no obstacles, vehicles and people (like a children’s birthday party in the yard next door) in the way. Yell at the bear and tell him to go away (from a safe place such as inside the house). Make noise by banging pots and pans. Throw rocks or empty tin cans that clatter on the cement. Stamp your feet. Turn the garden hose on him. Play a Britney Spears CD. You get the idea. Pretty much anything that communicates that the bear is not welcome.
Next step: Repeat throughout the neighbourhood as needed (it’s actually less work if you get your neighbours involved, but it’s up to you). Just a hint: this whole job is made even easier if you remove the things that attract bears in the first place such as garbage, birdfeeders, berry bushes and, of course, food. This leaves you time for other activities such as riding, work and, well, eating yourself.
The last step is to report bear-related incidents by calling for help. In Whistler, call 604-905-BEAR (2327). It’s especially important to report ‘undesirable’ bear behaviour. What is ‘undesirable’ bear behaviour? It includes bears being in high use and active human areas; not leaving an area when encountering humans at close distances; actively searching for or eating food when humans are present; approaching humans to obtain food; damaging property to obtain food; behaving assertively toward people; entering a human residence, commercial buildings, outbuilding or vehicle; or attacking humans, pets, or livestock.
Wow, that’s a comprehensive list. As a community, we could limit some of those activities dramatically, by teaching bears better manners earlier on in the game. It’s just not OK to ignore potential conflict! We could actually outsmart bears, if we put some real effort into it. Let’s give it a try. Learn more at www.getbearsmart.com.
By Catherine Sherlock