Smarter than the average bears | Squamish Chief

Smarter than the average bears

District has tested new totes as Squamish bears figure out how to access garbage

The bears are outsmarting us.

The animals have become crafty garbage burglars capable of cracking open totes, according to a recent wildlife update.

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During a presentation to council on March 10, the District's wildlife officer, Meg Toom, said that an inability to find the holy grail of bear-proof totes has been a substantial challenge to preventing human-bear conflict.

"We saw an increase in bears accessing garbage," said Toom. "It's a progressive evolution of bears' ability to break in, so [totes] can work for five to 10 years, for the foreseeable future, but then [we have to] go back to the drawing board again when they start to figure it out."

Some tote designs have been around for a long period, and bears have learned how to crack the code as a result.

Most of bears' garbage burglaries occur the night before garbage collection, when the totes are left beside a house or out on the curb, she said.

"Bears have learned how to gain access to them," Toom added.

And it's not without consequence.

According to figures compiled by the District, all eight bear destructions in 2018 in the municipality resulted after the animals became conditioned to humans and used to eating garbage.

Similarly, in 2019, those reasons accounted for eight of the 10 destructions.

Since 2015, 44 bears have been destroyed, with 37 of them being put down as a result of garbage conditioning and human habitation. Some of the key attractants that have spurred conflict between humans and bears include garbage, kitchen organics, and fruit trees.

In the District report, it was noted that 65 and 95 gallon totes with new stainless-steel carabiners failed testing in July 2019.

Squamish bear
Source: File/Brian Aikens

The totes' failure was not on account of the carabiners, which stayed intact. Instead, clever bears found another method.

In the case of the 65-gallon totes, bears realized they could take them apart at the rear of the lid. For the 95 gallon tote, bears tore through the front part of the lid.

"Despite residents' best efforts, even locked totes are being breached by way of bears bending, biting and breaking the tote," reads the report.

Before 2019, the 95 gallon totes were never tested or certified, the report states.

The Chief asked Green For Life for comment, but a response was not received by press deadline.

And the totes themselves are only one part of the bear-garbage equation — a lot of the issue still has to do with people, the report says.

Some common problems include residents not securing locks on their totes. Others fail to replace damaged totes or have locks replaced.

Residents also sometimes place their totes on the curb the night before collection, which is in contravention of the wildlife attractant bylaw.

Other totes are left outside 24/7, which inevitably allows bears to gain access to garbage.

In 2019, there were a few other highlights concerning human-wildlife conflicts.

In April of that year, an elk was hit on the stretch of Highway 99 by the Adventure Centre and was subsequently euthanized. This is the seventh elk killed on this part of the highway since 2012.

Coyotes encountering dogs, residential chicken coops and domestic cats were an ongoing concern as well.

There was little cougar activity in 2019, though, compared with the previous year, which saw one cougar destroyed.

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