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Bears on the prowl

The spate of warm weather last week didn't just send sun bathers to beaches and gardeners to nurseries - it also drew bears from their winter lairs.

The spate of warm weather last week didn't just send sun bathers to beaches and gardeners to nurseries - it also drew bears from their winter lairs.

Coquitlam Bear Aware co-ordinator Drake Stephens said he has fielded numerous calls from Westwood Plateau residents about a bear that has been entering people's properties looking for food.

"He's moving from Lansdowne [Drive] to the 2900-block of Panorama [Drive]. He's a problem; he's entering garages if they're not closed and going up on porches."

This bold bear has been relocated once before and will likely have to be dealt with soon, Stephens said. He wouldn't say what steps he expected the conservation officers would take but, in the past, some problem bears have been shot.

Port Moody and Port Coquitlam have also had their share of bear calls. Bears have been sighted along the Shoreline Trail at Noons Creek and on the Trans Canada Trail on Schoolhouse Creek, and signs have gone up warning walkers about bears in the area.

Meanwhile, Port Coquitlam and Coquitlam have had about four calls a week, with more expected as the weather warms up and bears come out of hibernation to start feeding.

"I'm sure they'd love to see some berries now," said Stephens, noting the berry season is likely to be late this year due to the cold, wet spring.

Still, Stephens wouldn't speculate whether this would be a high-conflict year for bears like last year, when 12 were killed in the Tri-Cities, or a low-conflict year like 2009, when few bears came to the area and there were fewer complaints (930 in Coquitlam in 2010, compared to 476 in 2009) and only one killed in Coquitlam.

Bears are opportunistic and will eat just about everything. In the mountains they'll be looking for new green shoots, insects and carrion from winter kill but if food is hard to find, they may be tempted to move into urban areas.

And if they become habituated to human food and get used to being around people, they could become problem bears.

But the cold winter may have increased the mortality rates for bears. In Whistler, reports are suggesting the number of bears that survived the winter is down and Stephens said he suspects there may be a similar trend locally, although can't be sure.

"The number of calls is probably the lowest we've had in the last April and May," he said.

Still, Stephens is making the rounds of Coquitlam neighbourhoods where bears are being sighted to make sure people aren't leaving their garbage out overnight. On Sunday, May 8, most Westwood Plateau residents were complying with the bylaw requiring them to keep their garbage locked up until the morning of collection day (5:30 to 7:30 a.m.). "I was quite impressed with how good people were on the Westwood Plateau compared to other areas," he said, noting one neighbourhood ignored the rules and left their garbage out. Stephens visited these homes or left door-hangings explaining the importance of removing bear attractants.

He has also been speaking with Tri-City newcomers at local ESL classes, where his message has been greeted with enthusiasm and concern.

Now that it's garden season, Stephens reminds people that even fertilizer and bone meal can attract bears and should be kept indoors and secured.

Meanwhile, hikers are advised to take safety precautions on local trails. Stephens said bear attacks are extremely rare and only two people have ever been injured by a bear in the Tri-Cities out of the hundreds of bear sightings in the region every year, and in both cases the bear was startled or provoked.

He recommends people travel in groups and keep their dogs on leash. "You shouldn't have any trouble if the bear hears you coming," he said.

For more on trail and back-country bear safety, see pages A14 and A15.)

To contact Stephens, call 604-927-6317 and to find out more about reduce human/bear conflicts, visit