Black bears like this one tore through New Denver's Centennial Campground

An unbearable waste

Three black bears marauded through New Denver's Centennial Campground last week, an avoidable nuisance, said Conservation Officer Blair Thin.

  • Aug. 16, 2011 12:00 p.m.

“Three angry bears are ripping up Centennial Park in New Denver,” blared out over the radio.

The RCMP and a Conservation Officer were called to New Denver’s downtown Centennial Park campground Sunday, August 7th after one Cinnamon and two black bears tore into several campers’ coolers.

Gayle Swanson who runs the campground said the bears have been a nuisance all summer long, but this final rampage was too close for comfort.

She told me they have a lot of kids staying in the campground, and many local kids who play in the nearby Kohan Reflection Garden.

The bears began rummaging around in people’s coolers some time in May and had been back at it a few times in June, but July the visits became more persistent.

“I would sure like them not to be here,” said Swanson, noting that many people don’t understand that bears are unpredictable. Add a few hundred pounds, claws and teeth as well as an insatiable appetite and you’ve got a problem.

After trying to reach the Conservation Officer for the area a few times, the situation became serious enough in the end that she felt she had to call 911.

“When a problem happens,” said Swanson, “it’s sure too late.”

It’s not the Conservation Officer’s fault, admits Swanson, “he’s got a large district. He’s very busy.”

That Sunday evening, both RCMP Officer Foley and Conservation Officer Blair Thin raced to the campground.

As soon as he knew what direction the bear was headed, Officer Thin set out after it, not even making it into the campsite. He found the cinnamon about a block and a half away and managed to chase it up a tree on the beach next to the hospital.

Luckily, even though it was in an urban area, there were no other people around at the time.

Bears like this one aren’t really wild bears any more, Thin told me. They are conditioned and habituated to living off the food they find around human settlements. Once they’re accustomed to eating what we leave out – which could be anything from birdseed to pet food, garbage, or a barbeque grill that hasn’t been cleaned – they don’t bother looking for food in the wild any more.

Thin said there are many people who don’t understand what practising good bear safety means.

“You can’t just leave coolers out in a built-up area or a remote area,” he told me, “The bottom line for bears is food. If there is none, they move on. The trick is to keep them in the bush and not our back yards.”

The trees dripping with ripe fruit in New Denver is likely what the bears were originally attracted by, or what kept them hanging around. Officer Thin was amazed at how much ripe fruit was available.

“Pick them as they ripen,” he said, if you don’t want to have a bear problem, because if the fruit hits the ground and rots, all that sweet fermenting goodness is bear heaven.

Thin also echoed that bears are unpredictable, and can act out in ways that seem without rhyme or reason.

“Every bear has its own personality,” he said, “that’s why they’re so dangerous.”

After treeing the bear that afternoon, Officer Thin had to destroy it, something he would prefer not to do. He stressed that following precautionary bear safety measures will prevent more situations like this one happening.

Gayle Swanson now ensures that all campers at Centennial Park receive a bear aware package and understand that bears are not to be fed purposely or by accident.

At the end of it all, the bear’s body was returned to the wild where the scavengers may find the junk food-fed meat tolerable. Unfortunately, once a bear has been feeding on human-source food, even the meat is no longer suitable for human consumption.

If you have a wildlife issue or concern, you can call the “Report a Poacher or Polluter” wildlife hotline 24 hours a day at 1-877-952-7277.

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