Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Ladysmith might not have any African lions (though we do have cougars!) or tigers, but our community does have its share of black bears. Between May and October when bears are the most active, Todd Carnahan, community coordinator with WildSafeBC, travels throughout the Cowichan Valley Regional District, including Ladysmith, educating people about the importance of ensuring that bears and other wild animals never associate humans with food.
"Ladysmith has issues with black bears in particular - bears that have been conditioned to associate humans with food. 90% of this food is garbage waste that has been placed out the evening before garbage collection," explains Carnahan. "Bears eat the trash and become a problem for residents, causing property damage and creating potential threats to our pets, children and adults."
Most recently, Carnahan tagged dozens of garbage cans placed too early at the curb in the northwest quadrant of Ladysmith - Cloke, Davidson, McKinley, Colonia and other areas north of Holland Creek. He started the campaign with door to door visits, informing residents about how to avoid attracting bears and other wildlife to their properties.
"Right now, fruit trees are dropping fruit and ripened blackberries are plentiful. I encourage residents to clean up the fruit under their trees and pick the berries in their yards," he says. "Make noise while berry picking so they know you are there. In the rare case that someone encounters a bear, it's important to stay calm. Don't scream or run. Just speak to the bear in a loud voice and slowly back away if it is not advancing toward you."
Other bear attractants include compost bins, BBQs containing fish or meat residue, food left out for pets, and bird seed in feeders.
"There is never a good reason for feeding wildlife, including birds. In the summertime by feeding birds you are also feeding rats and potentially bears," says Carnahan. "A full bird feeder can contain 8000 calories - the same amount of energy a bear gets after a day of foraging for food in the woods. A bear will come back to your backyard feeder over and over again because you keep filling it up."
Carnahan also reminds Ladysmith residents that feeding bears intentionally or unintentionally is a threat to the bear, emphasizing that "a fed bear is a dead bear." It's also illegal under the provincial Wildlife Act. Carnahan encourages residents to safeguard their trash and keep containers in locations that bears can't access -garages, sheds, and secured enclosures to ensure bears never associate food with humans.
"When bears get into garbage, they can develop infections in their faces and lose their hearing and eyesight. This makes them a real threat to people because they become desperate," he says. "These animals are ingesting plastic by eating plastic liners along with the food that is on them - that plastic residue can back up in their systems and kill them or cause a lot of pain over the long term. When a bear becomes a threat, a conservation office has to find and destroy that animal."
While black bears are the primary concern for Ladysmith, to a lesser extent the coastal black-tailed deer is also an issue because people attract the deer to their homes by feeding them and allowing the deer to use backyards as sleeping areas. Carnahan says when we allow that to happen we are changing the behaviour of wild animals and placing them in grave danger.
"The number of deer in Victoria, for example, is at least 100 times the density of deer you would find in their natural environment," he explains. "So when you concentrate a population of wild animals into a small area, they start to lose their fear, they don't have enough food, they get hit by cars, and they become a threat to people in that they will give birth to fawns in your backyard and, in turn, attract bears."
In addition to speaking with residents about how to avoid animal attractants, Carnahan also offers WildSafeBC presentations to school and community groups in areas where bears and other wildlife have posed an issue.
"I'd be happy to hear from Ladysmith teachers, administrators and others and talk to them about the kind of information we can provide," he says. "It's important we start this conversation early, which is why we have a junior ranger program that educates children on all of these issues."
For more information about bear and other wildlife awareness or to arrange a WildSafeBC presentation for your school or community group, call Todd Carnahan at 250-210-7303.