What more can Port Coquitlam do about bears?

Cart locks for green bins may not be enough, conservation officers say, city urged to become Bear Smart

A call for Port Coquitlam to become a Bear Smart city was greeted with skepticism by council members, who say PoCo is already doing enough to keep bears out of its neighbourhoods.

Conservation officers and B.C.’s provincial wildlife conflict manager made a plea for the city to do more to reduce bear attractants — including hiring a consultant to do a hazard assessment.

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But some councillors say the bears are too plentiful, owing to the lack of a provincial bear management strategy and the large amount of development taking place in forested areas in neighbouring Coquitlam.

“What is the province actually doing?” asked Coun. Darrell Penner, who said, growing up in PoCo, “we would never see a bear. Now, there are thousands of bears.”

“I lived here 55 years and never saw a bear until that development [in Coquitlam] started,” Coun. Dean Washington said.

Councillors were told there is no provincial management plan for black bears as there is for the wolf and grizzly bear populations. As for Penner’s suggestion of chemical sterilization, Mike Badry, the province’s wildlife conflict manager, said there is no such chemical for bears and, if there were, such a program wouldn’t work because bears are long-lived and it would take years to see a result.

But Badry and two conservation officers who work in the Tri-Cities said while city-provided bear locks and information campaigns are helping, PoCo could do more to discourage bears.

Becoming Bear Smart, as Coquitlam and seven other municipalities have done, would give the city more tools for dealing with bear conflicts that resulted in 400 calls for help this year.

“Port Coquitlam is a hotspot for bear conflict,” Badry said.

Badry admitted that there would always be bears “sniffing around,” looking for food even if every garbage and green cart were locked up tight.

“Bears let you know where your weaknesses are,” he said.

But he recommended establishing a plan that would deal with bears over the long term, such as embedding strategies into the official community plan and making sure every policy is considered with a view to limiting bear issues.

Bear problems start when bears lose their wariness of people — called habituation — at which point they could be hazed or relocated out of the neighbourhood, but once they become “food conditioned,” Badry said, there is nothing that can be done to save them.

At that point, if their aggressiveness continues, they have to be destroyed, something the conservation officers don’t want to have to do, he said. Still, it occurred 600 times this year province-wide, down from 1,000 destroyed in years past, 

Becoming Bear Smart would result in improved public safety, reduced property damage and fewer bears being killed, Badly said.

“We can respond in other ways than killing,” he said.

He acknowledged PoCo has taken steps to reduce bear activity, including handing out bear locks to keep bruins out of garbage carts. A so-called third arm that is being introduced to make carts tamper-free in PoCo, has been well received.

“It really is the most efficient tool,” said Coun. Steve Darling, “I would like to see all communities in B.C. using them."

One problem, however, is that they get lost between tenants, people don’t always use them or don’t know how to use them properly.

“We find them sitting on the ground beside the bin,” conservation officer Chris Miller told council. “People are the major issue, they need to be educated."

Sgt. Todd Hunter, who leads a team of officers in the region, said the goal is to get all three cities to be Bear Smart; Coquitlam has already received the designation and Port Moody is in the process of doing so, having just completed a hazard assessment.

“It’s been an extremely difficult year,” he said, “We’re trying to get a handle on it.”

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