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Bear death toll hits 17

Group forming to reduce human/bear conflict Todd Lawson and John French Chief Staff Writers Squamish's bear death toll for 2004 has hit 17 with three more losing their lives this past week. Two bear cubs were killed Saturday (Sept.

Group forming to reduce human/bear conflict

Todd Lawson and John French

Chief Staff Writers

Squamish's bear death toll for 2004 has hit 17 with three more losing their lives this past week.

Two bear cubs were killed Saturday (Sept. 18) after a vehicle hit them on Clarke Drive.

The scene of the tragedy had to be cordoned off because the mother of the cubs arrived to help her doomed offspring.

Squamish RCMP Cpl. Dave Ritchie said the incident happened at 10:14 p.m. and the local Conservation Officer Service was brought in to help deal with the situation.

Police were involved in another fatal bear incident Monday (Sept. 20) when a number of 911 calls were made that evening to report a bear in Brackendale. Ritchie said the police responded and found the bear in the area of Ross Road and Arrowhead. Police twice tried to use scare tactics to get the bear to move on. Ritchie said the bear charged at the RCMP members.

The aggressive bear had to be destroyed, Ritchie said.

Conservation Officer Chris Doyle was busy with other matters so the RCMP dealt with each of these bear situations.

Doyle dealt with another flood of bear complaints this week.

As of Tuesday, 11 bears had been destroyed in September alone for a total of 17 in 2004 - more than double the number killed in the past two years combined. He said that bear-related complaints are coming from every part of the community.

In an attempt to reduce these numbers, an organization called the Squamish Bear Network (SBN) will soon to be introduced to the community.

The mandate of the SBN seeks to educate and inform Squamish residents about how to reduce the number of conflicts between humans nd bears, and when they do happen how to resolve them.

"We're trying to reduce conflict between humans and bears by educating people how to avoid bears coming into their backyards," said Eivind Tornes, a bear enthusiast and one of the Squamish residents behind the project. "The Squamish Bear Network plans to operate much like the North Shore Black Bear Network, in that we will try to educate people on bear behaviour and the perceived dangers of bears, as well as help out when conflicts do occur."

The SBN will also help the Sea to Sky's lone conservation officer Chris Doyle, who has been deluged this year with more than 400 bear calls in the corridor. In the future, when the program is up and running, calls to the RCMP and the conservation office will be diverted to the SBN's volunteer network, who will be trained to deal with reported bear situations.

Doyle said this week another Conservation Officer is currently in training and will start in the Sea to Sky corridor by November.

Noted bear researcher and Whistler bear expert Michael Allen, conservation officer Chris Doyle, Owen Carney of Carney's Waste Systems, District of Squamish director of public safety Cliff Doherty and Larry McHale, supervisor of forestry, trails and wildfire control for West Vancouver Parks are all on board to provide consultation for the project.

McHale was instrumental in implementing the North Shore Black Bear Network, which has experienced great success during its three-year run. "It's a huge success, people love it," he said. "In three years we haven't had to kill any bears at all. Rather than people calling police, they can call us. Most of the time people are just scared and they just want someone to talk to, someone who knows what to do."

McHale says that global warming could be seen as a possible explanation for the bear problems in the area. This year, bears were spotted coming out of hibernation as early as the end of March, up to two full months earlier than normal. With no food from nature ready at this time, the bears start coming into town looking for a meal, which is where the problems start. "When they get into residential areas and get used to humans, they know we're not a threat to them," said McHale. "But fear motivates people to find a quick solution."

McHale noted that there are about 25 to 30 bears currently roaming the residential neighborhoods in North Van, who are all there because of the lure of bear attractants.

"If people put bird feeders out, they're asking for a bear to come into their yards," said McHale."Bird feeders are huge attractants to bears, they love bird food. We try to educate people to pick up fruit off the ground and in trees, to keep garbage in a locked garage or shed, and to put feeders away."

The experts agree that the prevalence of bear attractants is Squamish's main problem.

Doyle, who has had the most experience dealing with all of the bear problems in the area, is often the one forced to deal with the grim reality of having to destroy bears that have become a threat to public safety.

"It's not a pleasant task and not something I like to do, but when public safety is at stake I have to do it," he said. "What's even harder is trying to convince people to control the attractants."

Doyle agrees that this year has been worse than normal, which may be a result of several issues combined including the berry crop ripening a month early, a healthy bear population, and the encroachment of continuous development which affects bear habitat.

"If we have people interested in spreading information about attractants and educating residents about how to react if a bear does walk into their yard, it'll help reduce some of the conflicts in the community," Doyle said.

Although this is not the first year that Squamish has had a higher-than-normal number of human/bear conflicts, those involved in getting the Squamish Bear Network up and running want to make sure there are far fewer instances in the future.

"We hope to change the attitude of people to show them that bears are very nice creatures and should not necessarily be feared," said Tornes. "We want to decrease the amount of bears that are killed here. They're such a huge part of nature and one of the biggest resources we have here, we don't want to have to keep killing them."

Anyone interested in finding more about the Squamish Bear Network can call Eivind Tornes at 604-898- 4814.