Conservation officers are warning residents to be more careful with their garbage as bears in the area appear to be getting bolder.
At the Woodfibre pulp mill recently, two bears were turning their daily garbage-foraging practice into a serious safety concern - and had to be taken down by district conservation officers as a result.
Within the last couple of weeks, several employees at the mill had some scary situations while on the mill property at night. A large solitary black bear developed a fearless attitude towards humans and was roaming the mill site in search of food.
"It was a real concern with our workers, especially at night," said Woodfibre mill manager Bob Ringrose. "We don't want to have our employees having to walk around with pepper spray. We want to protect our workers."
Conservation officers were called in to inspect the situation. Because there were employees at risk and the bears had become habituated to garbage, both bears were shot on the mill grounds.
"We don't like to have to do that," said conservation officer Dennis Pemble. "But it was turned into a human safety issue. They'd been coming and going for a while and the employees were concerned."
Pemble explained that any bear that becomes habituated to garbage is taken down.
"Once a bear gets into garbage they're always looking for anything else available within the area," said Pemble. "The bears were also lurking around the cookhouse and several of the outbuildings. One of the bears was chewing up a large insulated plastic pipe."
Even though Carney's had recently installed at least six new bear-proof garbage containers at Woodfibre, one determined bear managed to tear the lid right off of the container.
"I guess he wanted in," said Ringrose.
Woodfibre used to be a residential community about 40 years ago, and Ringrose believes that the bears may have become used to frequenting the community to feed on berry patches and gardens planted by residents.
Since bears have awoken from winter hibernation, there have approximately 20 reported sightings in Brackendale, along Finch Drive and in the Squamish Business Park. Nearly all of the reports have included bears being involved with seeking an alternative food source - neighbourhood garbage.
"They're still looking for food," said conservation officer Chris Doyle. "Apparently we've got one bear in particular who's getting conditioned to garbage."
The bear in question was originally spotted in Brackendale in February, and has been frequenting the area on a regular basis. Because bears don't learn from each other socially, other than a cub/sow situation, other bears haven't been joining in the garbage buffet.
A bear trap has been set up in the area by conservation officers, but he continues to elude the trap.
"There's still a bear running around in Brackendale," said Doyle, "but he never goes near the trap."
Doyle explained to the Chief that black bears will look for food sources other than their regular natural food sources, but once they become habituated and conditioned to garbage they will frequent residential areas.
"It's a continuous problem in Squamish - it won't be the first bear causing problems this year."Black bears will also wander into town to feast on fruit trees and are attracted to the smell of outdoor compost bins.
"If they have a chance to get into something they will," said Pemble. "We really want to get the message across to people in the community to be responsible so these bear incidents can be prevented. Don't leave your garbage out overnight and be aware of any other bear attractants that may arouse the curiosity of bears."