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Bears active in Squamish pre-hibernation, so mind your trash and your berries, folks

Visitors and locals still leaving attractants, says District staff.
A black bear chewing on a paper towel f
A black bear chewing on a paper towel from a ripped apart garbage bag in a residential yard.

Human bad behaviour remains the biggest threat to bears in Squamish. 

By now, we all (should) know that a fed bear — one that accesses garbage, fruit trees and the like — is a dead bear. 

Once a bear becomes habituated, it can become a threat to humans or their dwellings and end up in dangerous situations or put down. 

We have been told this for years by various experts.

The Sea to Sky Conservation Officer Service tells The Squamish Chief that two bears have had to be destroyed since April. 

One in the Garibaldi Highlands that was entering houses, and one at Cat Lake that was accessing food in tents.

And yet, attractants around town remain a problem putting wildlife at risk, according to the District. 

Visitors leaving garbage has been a big issue this season, said Megan Latimer, the director of public safety for the District of Squamish.

"What we're finding is, even though there are additional garbage bins put out in different areas, what happens is, if they get full, people are leaving bags beside them ... instead of taking them with them," she said. 

"One of the key messages is we want people to pack out what they're bringing in. And if the garbage bins are full, take that with you. Don't just leave it. It has such an impact in terms of attractants because bears can smell things up to a kilometre away."

She said coolers being left unattended is a problem, and it is compounded by the fact some cooler companies claim to be bearproof when there really is no such thing. 

"Secure your coolers — your food — put them inside your vehicle if you are vehicle-camping, take garbage out with you, do not leave it. And you know if there's a food cache in a campground, if you're staying in a campground, use the food cache, that's great. That's what it's there for."

Not all visitors are leaving trash, Latimer stressed. 

"Out of the camping-related complaints that we receive, it's about 37% of those have some sort of bear attractants associated with them. So there are people that are doing the right thing," she said. "We know not everybody is leaving their garbage behind.

Since April, the District has had about 158 public complaints related to bears. 

These calls included reports about wildlife attractants, bears accessing containers or totes, campers leaving garbage out, bears accessing totes, campers leaving garbage out, and dumpsters at construction sites being accessed by bears. 

There have been 72 bylaw offence notices (tickets) handed out, all under the wildlife attractant bylaw. 

"Most of those are to residential areas. It's about 60% residential, 40% commercial. So, sometimes there are businesses as well that there have been issues with in terms of garbage being unsecured."

For residents, Latimer's advice is the same as locals have heard for years. 

"Keeping your totes locked and stored away, that's really important," she said. "Ensuring that bears don't feel welcome in your neighbourhood. So, making lots of noise that they are on your property, trying to scare them away. Right now, we're seeing a lot of the fruit trees are producing. So if people can make sure that they're removing those attractants from their property — going out and picking the fruit off your trees, getting the berries off your bushes."

She noted that this is the time of year when the bears are trying to fatten up. 

"They're taking in so many extra calories at this time of year to prepare for a long, cold winter hibernation. This is when we start to see lots more bears coming through the community and, potentially, conflict between humans and bears as well."

Latimer said at the bi-weekly Visitor Management Roundtable meetings, wildlife comes up regularly.

"It's unfortunate that we are having to devote so much attention to [this issue]. But the great thing is that all the right agencies and organizations are at the table to try to come up with different solutions," she said. 

Members of that group hail from, among others, the District, the Conservation Officer Service, RCMP, Tourism Squamish, SORCA and the Squamish Dirt Bike Association (SDBA).

There is also a relationship with Squamish Nation, Latimer said.

The District also brought on Vancouver wildlife management company Humane Solutions in April, to fill the role formerly filled by Squamish wildlife co-ordinator Meg Toom.

"They've been doing some education through the community," Latimer said, adding the group had a booth at the Farmers' Market and did a presentation at a school, among other outreach. 

"And they've also assisted bylaw with the response to some of the incidents like in higher profile areas of town where we've had recurring complaints. So some of the downtown area, there was some issues along the highway. They'll help with doing education with any of the businesses or residents that might be part of the issue. And also putting out signage — things like that."

Poop issue

Latimer noted that more portable toilets were installed this summer to address the human poop issue that can arise in some areas.

"Through the Visitor Management Roundtable, we have been able to have those conversations with partners about where those toilets are needed. The constraint from our side is it has to be within District boundaries. So there are other partners that provide porta potties outside of that." 

Latimer acknowledged that "more is often better in these situations" but noted the District has budget constraints "like everybody else."

"We've really tried to put them in the places that will have the most impact. And what we've been doing this season is continuing to look at where those other gaps are. So that next year, we can plan for that, and hopefully field additional porta potties, garbage cans, things like that to provide that supportive infrastructure," she said. 

New portable toilets were placed at the Mamquam FSR (near the Slhanay trailhead), at the Spit Road entrance, at the Squamish River Dike behind the Railway Museum of British Columbia,  at the Lower Ring Creek Road and in the Smoke Bluffs at three locations. 

Mobile toilet locations that are seasonally in place in addition to the newer locations include:

  • Don Ross Middle School
  • Fisherman’s Park
  • Garibaldi Highlands Elementary
  • Eagle Run (by the WaterShed Grill ) 
  • Mamquam River dike (near the golf course)
  • Boulevard pump station
  • Brennan Park all-weather Field
  • Hendrickson Field
  • Dowad Road at Tantalus Road

 

Here’s a map to all the locations. 

Bear busters: who are you going to call?

For Wildlife Attractant Bylaw concerns, contact Bylaw Department at 604.815.5067 or bylaw@squamish.ca.

For wildlife sightings or encounters, contact the 24/7 Conservation Officer Service hotline at 1.877.952.7277, or if the situation is not urgent, reports can also be made using the online form at: http://forms.gov.bc.ca/environment/rapp (choose ‘wildlife’).


**Please note that this story has been updated since it was first posted to include information from the COS.