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Okanagan residents urged to secure garbage due to hungry bears displaced by wildfires

Click to play video: 'Bear wanders near highway in Kelowna' Bear wanders near highway in Kelowna
A bear caused quite the scene in Kelowna on Tuesday night, as it wandered down a sidewalk on Highway 97 near Banks Road. Police responded and tried to scare away the bear, which looked unsure of itself and dazed by all the lights and attention. Conservation officers were called but weren’t needed, as it wandered back towards the bush. – Aug 4, 2021

It turns out that humans are not the only living creatures being displaced by raging wildfires in B.C.’s Interior.

Bears are also fleeing the flames and searching out safer habitats in the Okanagan, prompting an increase in human-wildlife conflict.

The BC Conservation Officer Service said the Kelowna office received 129 reports of bears accessing unprotected garbage and jeopardizing public safety in August alone.

Read more: Cooler temperatures help slow growth of Skaha Creek wildfire near Penticton, B.C.

“Bears use their incredible sense of smell to zero in on food sources from many kilometres away. Once a bear has obtained foods like garbage, it will become single-minded and become more and more determined in its attempts to access the food source, sometimes going so far as to break into homes,” conservation officials said in a public service announcement.

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Click to play video: 'B.C. family finds dozens of severed bear paws in North Shuswap area' B.C. family finds dozens of severed bear paws in North Shuswap area
B.C. family finds dozens of severed bear paws in North Shuswap area – May 25, 2021

In B.C., it is an offence to feed or leave attractants like garbage available to dangerous wildlife, including bears, cougars, wolves and coyotes.

Conservation officers can issue dangerous wildfire protection orders under the Wildlife Act if garbage poses a significant safety risk to the public.

Kelowna conservation officers are teaming up with the West Kelowna Wildsafe BC Coordinator to ramp up bear attractant audits in West Kelowna, Kelowna and the Central Okanagan Regional District to get a better handle on the problem.

Read more: Lumby fire chief concerned after latest ‘suspicious’ blaze

The Conservation Officer Service notes that highly food-conditioned and habituated bears often have to be euthanized.

“Relocation does not work with human habituated and food-conditioned bears,” officers said.

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Click to play video: 'B.C. bear caught on video trying to score easy snack from bird feeders' B.C. bear caught on video trying to score easy snack from bird feeders
B.C. bear caught on video trying to score easy snack from bird feeders – May 21, 2021

“These bears when relocated often return to their original home territory or become ‘problem’ animals in other communities. In addition, translocated wildlife often fail to adapt to their new habitat and, as a result, may starve to death or be killed by the animals that already occupy the area.”

The public can report conflicts with dangerous wildlife to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline toll-free at 1 877 952-RAPP (7277) or visit the RAPP website at www.rapp.bc.ca.

Residents can also visit www.wildsafe.bc.com to find a map that shows where bears have been sighted in their community along with information about what has attracted them into the area.

Read more: Another 3 B.C. wildfires ‘being held,’ but 236 still active across province

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Wildfires burned large swaths of land across the Okanagan Valley and Kamloops-Thompson regions in a brutal 2021 fire season fuelled by historic drought, heatwaves and little precipitation.

The BC Wildfire Service has reported progress this weekend on all flanks of the White Rock Lake fire west of Vernon, B.C., that has scorched more than 800 square kilometres.

Click to play video: '‘They killed them all’: B.C. chicken coop raided by black bears' ‘They killed them all’: B.C. chicken coop raided by black bears
‘They killed them all’: B.C. chicken coop raided by black bears – May 19, 2021

It says a controlled ignition is planned for Monday if conditions remain favourable.

The emergency operations centre says additional firefighters from Mexico also arrived this weekend to help battle a blaze just outside West Kelowna and crews are making “good progress.”

The BC Wildfire Service also reached significant milestones on several fires that were downgraded from out-of-control to being “held” Saturday, including two blazes northwest of Castlegar.

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The new classification means the fires are not likely to spread beyond existing boundaries under the current and forecasted conditions.

-With files from the Canadian Press 

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