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Just because summer is winding down doesn't mean the bears aren't hungry

September is typically a busy month for bears and this year will be no exception as local bruins will be fattening up on high-calorie food to get ready for hibernation.

September is typically a busy month for bears and this year will be no exception as local bruins will be fattening up on high-calorie food to get ready for hibernation.

Fall is when black bears are in their hyperphagia stage, when they seem to forage non-stop - almost the entire day with just a few rest periods. And this is when residents from Anmore to Port Coquitlam must be most vigilant to get rid of anything that might attract the hungry omnivores.

"Everyone needs to do their part," says Coquitlam's Bear Aware co-ordinator, Drake Stephens, who has been monitoring bear activity all season and says bear complaints typically spike in the early fall.

This hasn't been the worst year for bears but it hasn't been a trouble-free year, either.

In Coquitlam alone, five bears have been destroyed, three of them because they were eating garbage and getting into garages and hobby farms. The other two were put down by conservation officers because they were injured; one was hit by a car on Mariner Way and another was shot by a bow-hunter on a blueberry farm. In Port Coquitlam, a bear was destroyed in June for eating garbage and in Anmore a bear that was dining on people's garbage and had been previously relocated was shot after it charged a man who was walking near its cubs.

Thanks to a cold, wet spring, bear season started out slow and bears were kept busy eating natural food and raising few concerns.

But the number of calls jumped in July, possibly due to awareness caused by a bear attack and death in Lillooet, Stephens speculated in a recent interview.

"After that, I think, they [people] just jumped on the phone," said Stephens, who recorded 237 calls in July, up from 201 in the same period last year.

Black bear attacks are rare and attacks by female black bears with cubs rarer still, Stephens said, but people must still be on the alert and call in bear sightings, especially in neighbourhoods where people aren't taking care of their garbage.

There are still some places where garbage and other attractants are being left out but more and more people are getting the message, he said. "Some neighbourhoods are taking ownership of the whole street." On those streets, bear sightings are rare and if even one person leaves their garbage out, Drake hears about it. "Education is working in areas where bears are around."

By mid-August, only one $500 fine had been issued to a homeowner who left their garbage out in a neighbourhood where it had attracted a passing bear, which was later killed.

Other communities are taking bear issues seriously, too.

Anmore is planning to introduce bear-resistant bins to residents next spring to reduce the potential for human/bear conflicts. Mayor Heather Anderson said the issue has been studied but the details need to be finalized.

In Port Coquitlam, bear complaints are on par with previous years, or even slightly down because more people are taking care of their garbage.

By the middle of this month, PoCo had only 21 garbage complaints compared to 74 the year before, said Dan Scoones, the city's manager of bylaw services, and no fines had been handed out. But as in Coquitlam, calls about bears rose dramatically in July as people spotted bears in their community, mostly north of the city.

Last week, a bear was seen hanging around a neighbourhood south of Shaughnessy Street, near Mary Hill, and the city sent out flyers reminding people to secure their garbage.

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Bears can become habituated to garbage, especially this time of year. Here's why:

As the summer progresses, a bear's urge to consume calories (hyperphagia) becomes paramount, and bears literally become eating machines until the fall. Feeding slows down in late fall, when bears are about to enter their dens.

Bears have an extraordinary sense of smell because the area of the brain that manages the sense of smell, called the olfactory bulb, is at least five times the size of the same area in human brains even though their brains are one third the size. A bear's sense of smell is so acute that it can detect animal carcasses upwind from a distance of 20 miles away. Thus, just because your food waste is in a hard plastic bin doesn't mean they can't smell it.

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