July 3, 2017 2:13 pm
Updated: July 3, 2017 2:16 pm

Province destroying too many habituated bears says wildlife expert

A black bear in Whistler was recently caught opening a van door and casually climbing inside as the owner of the vehicle recorded it all on camera.

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A B.C. wildlife expert says the province needs to take a second look at how many bears it’s destroying.

In May, Conservation Service officers put down 119 bears – the highest number for a single month in six years, and double the number killed in the same month of 2016.

READ MORE: Squamish residents upset after a bear and her two cubs destroyed by conservation officers


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But according to wildlife veterinarian Dr. Ken Macquisten with the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, the animals being killed aren’t the danger they’re made out to be.

“It’s a great shame that those are the bears that we actually put down all the time, because those literally are the least dangerous bears,” he said.

“The problem is they come right into our communities and they hang out, and people are more afraid of what could happen than what is likely to actually happen.”

Macquisten draws a distinction between habituated bears, who are comfortable in the presence of humans, and food-conditioned bears who return over and over to a human source of food, sometimes sparking conflict.

Steele & Drex: Steele & Drex: May was the deadliest month in six years for B.C.’s black bears

He said that research has found habituated bears who live close to humans are less likely to cause harm, while most attacks involve bears who have little exposure to humans.

“So I think these bears are being put down for an abundance of caution, but I think in a lot of cases, in my opinion, it’s too much caution and not enough taking care of the actual concerns of the individual bear.”

Macquisten said residents need to do their part to coexist by not leaving food or trash out to attract the animals, and said he’d like to see the province relocating habituated bears more often if necessary.

WATCH: Coquitlam residents face stiff fines for attracting bears

The Conservation Officer Service (COS) says the decision to put a bear down is never made lightly.

Investigator Murray Smith said only the bears with the worst habits have to be euthanized.

“The bears that smash the side of windows into cars, open doors into cars, or try to break into houses or bluff-charge people and do it multiple times,” he said.

READ MORE: City of Coquitlam issues double the number of fines for leaving garbage out compared to 2016

“We do a calculated assessment of the statistics based on our database and we look and we say ‘this bear, based on everything we’ve seen, [has] lost its fear of people and is food-conditioned on non-natural foods.”

But residents of bear-affected communities need to do their part to protect the animals, Smith said, particularly by not leaving their trash out.

In 2017 alone, the COS has issued more than 20 citations related to poor trash handling in the Lower Mainland and municipal bylaw officers have issued even more, he said.

In the City of Coquitlam, failure to follow bear-safe trash guidelines will net a resident a $500 fine.

In August of 2016, a 10-year-old girl was mauled by an allegedly food-conditioned mother bear with a cub in Port Coquitlam.

That prompted neighbouring Coquitlam to crack down on garbage and compost handling, issuing more than 60 tickets in the space of a few weeks.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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