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Bears awaken early this spring, sightings on the rise in parts of Metro Vancouver

In West Kelowna, Westbank First Nation, Peachland and the Central Okanagan regional districts, black bear sightings nearly doubled in 2021 as 412 were spotted throughout the region, compared with 231 the previous year, according to a new report from WildSafe B.C.

In locales north of the Fraser River, including the Tri-Cities, close to 3,000 bear sightings have been reported in the past year.

As spring awakens, so have black bears, dozens of which have been spotted early this year by residents in parts of Metro Vancouver.

B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service (COS), which attributes the ahead-of-schedule sightings to climate change and human habituation, is now warning people to get rid of fruit fallen from trees, hide bird feeders and utilize electric fences to ward off future conflicts.

In locales north of the Fraser River, including the Tri-Cities, close to 3,000 bear sightings have been reported in the past year, said Sgt. Todd Hunter, a conservation officer.

“Calls are trending upwards,” Hunter said. “Generally, it is closer to May that we see them come out, but bears have shown up a few weeks early. We’ve seen quite a few human-bear conflicts in recent weeks.”

In Burnaby, eight reports of bear sightings have been made in the last week. In one case, the animal was attracted to garbage laid out in the open. In another, someone’s property incurred damage.

In an email statement, B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said the change in activity is due, in part, to climate change, which causes North American bears species, such as grizzlies, to shorten their hibernation period.

“This is an ongoing trend and has been documented in several places in the world. While we cannot confirm this trend is also occurring with black bears, it would be fair to assume it is happening within their populations as well,” said spokesman David Karn.

However, on the North Shore, COS received reports of fewer black bears spotted since April, compared with 32 reports during the same time period the previous year.

“Things fluctuate from year-to-year. Bears typically come out in spring looking for roughage, including dandelions and grass to feast on. In summer, the second hot-spot season, they’re looking for food to pack on weight before they den,” Hunter said.

Black bear sightings are on the rise in B.C.’s southern Interior for similar reasons.

“While it is normal to see an increase in black bear reports during the fall, as bears are increasing their foraging to prepare for winter denning, the substantial increase this year over the previous five years suggests exceptional circumstances,” it reads.

The exceptionally high level of bear activity is believed to be due to drought conditions that reduced the natural food availability, as well as nearby wildfires, which resulted in increased bear movements to adjacent habitats.

“With the uncertainty in future environmental conditions due to climate change, there may continue to increase human-bear conflicts locally,” read the report.

Residents can report bear sightings to the COS tip line at 1-877-952-7277.

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