EDITORIAL: Squamish's 'bear aware' bylaws need to change

It’s happened again. A mother black bear and her two cubs were killed in downtown Squamish just days after a two-year-old bear was shot in Britannia Beach. 

These bears are so used to eating garbage and being around people that they have no reason to venture back into the forest to hunt and forage for their own food. The adult bears had been tagged and released multiple times, only to come back to town. This habituation is why these bears are dead – and it’s our fault. 

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Don’t blame the conservation officers for shooting the bears. And don’t blame bylaw officers for not handing out enough fines to people who don’t store their garbage properly. And, obviously, don’t blame the bears for becoming used to eating trash. 

It’s Squamish residents and businesses that are to blame. Not all of them, of course (there are many people who store their garbage properly – thank you), but I see knocked over garbage cans every time I go for a walk through Dentville early in the morning. Food is scattered all over the place and I can tell bears had shuffled through it. 

Yes, we live in bear country and seeing a bear is expected, but it’s not normal for bears to roam in busy areas of Squamish, scouring the area for food, particularly in the day time. It’s even sadder to see a mother bear teaching her cubs to do this. The cubs that were recently killed didn’t have a chance – there was no way they could be rehabilitated after they never learned the basics of finding their own food in the backcountry. 

I grew up in North Vancouver a few houses down from a forest and, luckily, the community never had this problem. We saw the odd bear but they didn’t wander along the streets checking everyone’s yards for food. 

Our garbage bins didn’t have locks and we put out our food scraps on the day the dump truck came by. My neighbours either stored their bins in their garage or kept the food inside, unlike the many times in Squamish when I have seen bins left out all week, which, unfortunately, is a-OK according to the bylaws. 

A local conservation officer recently told me that bears are starting to break into the locks because they know what’s inside. It seems ridiculous to me that many of us keep our bins outside for bears to knock over and throw around – of course they will eventually try to break the locks or walk from house to house to find one that isn’t secure. 

There should be a bylaw that Squamish residents need to keep their garbage bins in their garage, if they have one, or find another way to keep the food inside. It would be easy to give out fines for those who don’t comply. This is the only way to solve this problem before more bears are killed this summer. 

- Michaela Garstin 

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