SULLIVAN: Here's an unfriendly reminder to stop feeding the bears

Summertime and the livin’ is easy.

Unless you’re a bear.

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 As I write, nine bears have been shot and killed on the North Shore this summer for the crime of … being a bear.

A typical case: in July, a bear in the Lynn Creek area was shot and killed after it acquired a fatal taste for garbage that was left outside bear-proof storage containers.

This happens every year, despite efforts by well-meaning organizations such as the North Shore Black Bear Society and the Bearsmart Society to prevent it.

In a sentence: The problem for bears is people. According to the North Shore society, between 500 to 1,000 bears in British Columbia are sacrificed annually in bear-human conflicts. “Most bears are killed not because they are aggressive, but because they have been attracted to residential areas by improperly managed garbage, bird seed, unpicked fruit trees and other attractants,” says the Bear Society website.

Simply put, if people took responsibility for bear-proofing their trash, there would be fewer dead bears. Still, many people seem to think it’s someone else’s problem.

That someone else is a conservation officer, who ends up being judge, jury and executioner for some poor woodland creature who’s acquired a taste for human food. I know in past columns I’ve been critical of conservation officers who have a tendency to resort to capital punishment too quickly, but, the more I think about it, that’s like blaming the police for crime and letting the criminals off the hook. In this case, that’s us, folks.

It is actually against the law (BC Wildlife Act) to feed bears, even unintentionally. As Jane Seyd reported  last week, The District of North Vancouver has handed out 1,000 warning letters and issued a couple of dozen $100 fines to people who will apparently never learn to secure their trash.

It’s a little ironic that we jump up and down in indignation when someone’s cruel to a cat or a dog, but are strangely indifferent this annual shootout at the Black Bear Corral. To me, this Oh, Well attitude is mystifying: bears are miracles of nature; they deserve as least much honour and care as your beagle.

Maybe more.

In this era of assiduous recycling, when we carefully separate, prepare and deposit, it hardly seems inconvenient to take the next step and bear-proof your garbage. At the very least, don’t leave it unsecured and on the curb overnight. To a bear, that looks like an invitation to dinner. More importantly it smells like an invitation to dinner.

According to numerous sources, bears have the best sense of smell on earth, seven times more powerful than a bloodhound’s. They can smell tasty trash from more than 30 kilometres away.

Which is why conservation officers recommend that you freeze your garbage before you put it out for pickup (in the morning!) If you can’t freeze it, at least clean out the storage bin with bleach to prevent super nose from picking up the scent from far away.

And another thing – you might think about waiting until November, after the bears lumber back up into the mountains to hibernate, before you start feeding the birds. The birds don’t need another source of food in the summer, and poorly-tended bird feeders attract bears. Not to mention rats.

All this may seem like a colossal pain in the butt, but it’s nothing compared to what’s in store for a bear that becomes habituated to people food.

It starts with the garbage, folks, and then escalates to kitchens, campers, backpacks, and ultimately people. You do not want to get in between a hungry bear and a peanut butter sandwich.

It’s sad that all the time and money (and columnist hot air) expended on educating people about bears seems wasted. Inevitably, as our settlements extend further into the wilderness, more bears end up being sacrificed on the altar of “civilization.”

Real civilization, it seems to me, is to become attuned to what’s left of nature, and learn to co-exist with that remnant gracefully. I believe it’s called sustainability. Granted, the evidence is that there’s nothing sustainable about human civilization. But here’s an opportunity to take a small step in that direction by caring for one of Mother Nature’s most impressive creations.

Stop feeding the bears. Full stop.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna.

p.sullivan@breakthroughpr.com

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