The number of black bears killed by B.C. conservation officers so far this year has jumped dramatically compared to 2018, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Environment.
Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 17 this year, 521 black bears were destroyed by members of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS). Compare that to last year, when 371 bears were euthanized between April 1 and Dec. 31, 2018.
The most recent cases were in the Okanagan, where five black bears were destroyed in a Penticton neighbourhood on Thursday, including a family of three. In West Kelowna, six bears were euthanized over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
The ministry’s statistics show the Okanagan specifically has seen 52 bears destroyed by conservation officers so far this year, compared to 29 in 2018 — a 79 per cent jump.
COS inspector Tobe Sprado says the rise can be blamed on both human development encroaching into wilderness areas, and more residents leaving attractants out for bears.
“It seems like a lot of people need to wait for a bear to come into their yard to realize, oh, it is my fault,” he said. “We’re definitely trying to provide that education to the public.”
Sprado says the COS is working with municipalities to address attractants, including sealing garbage and compost bins and managing fruit trees and bushes.
But Christine Miller, executive director of the North Shore Black Bear Society, says different strategies are needed to prevent black bear deaths.
“We’d like to see more progressive management techniques and different styles of training and different policies that guide what actions are taken,” she said.
Beyond relocation — which she said isn’t being considered enough by COS officers — Miller says the province needs to look towards other non-lethal programs adopted by jurisdictions like Washington state.
Those include the state’s Karelian bear dog program, which deploys dogs to chase and bark at the bears to make them feel unsafe in a neighbourhood.
State officials have said the tactic has proven successful at preventing bears from re-habituating those areas up to 80 per cent of the time.
Miller says she and other bear societies in the province have written to the premier’s office, environment minister and COS suggesting this and other solutions to drive down the number of deaths.
“We really don’t like seeing these numbers,” she said. “We really need a whole different mindset.”
The COS has long said destroying bears is reserved for bears that become conditioned to human food, adding non-lethal solutions often don’t change animal behaviour.
Sprado says the COS is willing to consider both the dog program and others, and is currently exploring new solutions to the rise in bear sightings overall.
The number of bears destroyed by other means, including citizens, also rose by nearly 40 per cent from 82 bears in 2018 to 113 in 2019, according to the ministry.
The statistics show the number of bears destroyed represents between 22 and 24 per cent of total calls that COS officers attended in both years.
—With files from Shelby Thom and the Associated Press