Green bin buffet adds to ‘perfect storm’ for bears

Officials fear rise in wildlife encounters in Metro Vancouver due to food waste policy, other factors

Black bears can be attracted to urban neighbourhoods by garbage, green bin food waste, compost, fruit trees and other attractants.

Metro Vancouver cities’ move to mandatory curbside pickup of organic food waste has served up a dangerous buffet for bears, creating a risk that more will have to be destroyed.

That’s the warning from Dr. Sara Dubois, the chief science officer for the B.C. SPCA, who’d like to see more cities require locking green bins to avoid attracting wildlife.

“Unfortunately, I just don’t think they thought ahead of rolling this food scrap program out,” she said.

“You’ve got these bins in every community now and they’re generally not locked and they’re basically buffets for bears.”

Port Coquitlam will soon distribute clamp-type locks to homes in areas frequented by bears and Dubois would like to see other cities follow suit.

“That prevents a lot of animals from having to be killed,” she said, adding not all households are able to store bins indoors until pickup day.

She said the mild winter may further increase the risk of bear-human conflict this year.

“A number of bears didn’t get a full winter’s sleep,” Dubois said. “They were out very early. They had almost no slumber cycle. So that’s a real concern for us.”

Meanwhile, she said, several cities have lost provincial funding to hire local WildSafe BC coordinators, who coach residents on how to avoid animal conflicts and remove attractants, as is required under provincial law.

Ideally, she said, there would be more coordinators who speak multiple languages to help newcomers unfamiliar with B.C. wildlife.

“It’s a bit of a perfect storm here, unfortunately,” she said. “The poor conservation officers are going to have to respond to these calls as best they can.”

Bear attractants can include not just garbage, but also bird feeders, compost, fallen fruit from trees, bee hives and increasingly popular backyard chickens.

Unlocked organic waste bins have definitely worsened the bear attractant problem, said Conservation Officer Cody Ambrose, adding garbage-habituated bears generally must be destroyed rather than relocated.

“It really comes down to attractants,” he said. “If bears don’t have access to human food sources and garbage, we wouldn’t have as many wildlife-human conflicts.”

Another problem he pointed to is privately contracted garbage pickup in some cities such as Maple Ridge. Because each home can hire different firms, bears can usually find garbage out on the curb each day on every street, rather than in just one specific zone of the city each day.

Metro Vancouver’s bear hot spots tend to be the the Tri-Cities, North Shore and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, but they can show up anywhere – one was spotted roaming central Vancouver earlier this month.

Cougars, raccoons also on radar

Conservation officers have also been on the lookout for cougars after some concerning “close encounters” with people on the North Shore and sightings of a cougar family around Port Moody, Ambrose said.

Delta council, meanwhile, is calling on the province to assess the populations of urban wildlife and help municipalities find solutions to reduce conflicts.

“Raccoons are becoming a bigger and bigger problem and nobody seems to be doing anything about it,” said Delta Coun. Bruce McDonald.

He said the furry bandits are ripping up roofs in east Ladner – causing thousands of dollars in damage to homes – in an attempt to dig their way inside.

“They’re looking for nesting sites,” McDonald said. “And of course if they get into your house and have a litter there you can’t take them out until they’re old enough. You get rain coming through the holes in the roof.”

He said a friend in Ladner is “just beside herself” dealing with home-invading raccoons.

 

INTERACTIVE MAP

Want to see where wildlife sightings are being reported in B.C.? Check out WildSafe BC’s interactive WARP map at wildsafebc.com/warp/

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