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photo by Ester Strijbos, not taken on Cortes Island
General News · 2nd July 2014
James Hilgemann
I would like this opportunity to provide an update and offer some bear information on a number of bear sightings that the Conservation Officer Service received from residents on Cortes Island at the end of June. From what we are hearing, the bear(s) have essentially been good bears simply going about their everyday activities of foraging and finding shelter and water. There have been no reports of any property damage caused by the bears. Nor, has there been any reports of the bears acting in any way aggressively towards humans or acting unnaturally to suggest they are injured or sick. There was one report that a bear may have inspected a chicken coup, likely attracted to it by the odours of feed or compost left out for the chickens. The bear however did move on and there have been no repeats reported.

Though bear sightings and encounters on Cortes Island are rare, they do exist. Residents should be aware and accepting that there is a small but healthy black bear population on the island and prepare themselves for potential encounters should they occur. Some bears are resident animals and live out their life processes on Cortes Island, however there are transient bears they can and do frequent the island, swimming from other adjacent islands that also support bears.

This time of year the bears are foraging on new berry crops such as salmon, thimble, and black berries as they develop or ripen, lush spring vegetation like sedges and also foraging along the inter-tidal foreshore for crabs and other small crustaceans. The occasional fawn may also be taken at this time of year by an opportunistic bear

Residents of Cortes Island are encouraged to continue to be diligent with their domestic garbage management- place garbage out the morning of pick up. Be good neighbours and remind each other of potential attractants and look at ways to minimize and eliminate them. Store garbage in a secure location during the week. Do not store or mix fish waste or crab shells with your domestic refuse due to the strong odour.

Other potential bear attractants at this time of year are local vegetable gardens- pick produce as soon as it is ripe, compost only vegetative waste, use lime on your compost to help cover up smell and pick all fruit as it ripens later in the summer.
Ensure that any livestock is well penned and larger animals secured inside stables for the night.
The use of barbeques this time of year provides a strong attractant to wildlife in the general area, so it is prudent to keep them clean by burning off all residual from the grill prior to storing.
Refrain from using bird feeders at this time of the year as this is a major attractant, especially for bears

Should anyone have an encounter with a black bear, it will in all likelihood be very brief in nature and the bear will run off in the opposite direction. Most bears have a natural fear of humans and will avoid encounters whenever possible. Some things to consider when an encounter occurs, which will minimize the chances of a more aggressive response by the bear towards you are the following, understanding that there is no set rules that work at all times:

· Keep a situational awareness while outside or hiking in the forest- look for signs of bear and other large carnivores like cougar or wolf. For example; fresh scat, deer kill partially eaten and buried, scrapes on standing trees and along trails where animals mark a territory, consider leaving an area if you see these signs,
· Make noise as you travel to alert wildlife of your presence to minimize startling the animal and allowing it to avoid you. Wildlife typically becomes active just before last light/first light and during the night (nocturnal). Plan your outings accordingly which will really minimize encounters with wildlife
· All animals are individuals and act differently when they encounter humans- but a good rule of thumb is to stay calm when you have an encounter, slowly back out of the area to where you came from, make yourself look large and talk to the animal to assist it in profiling you as not being natural prey
· Report encounters and any aggressive in nature immediately to the Conservation Officer Service toll free Report all Poachers and Polluters(RAPP) phone number 1.877.952.RAPP(7277)- this alerts the service of potential human/ wildlife conflicts and allows the service to track and monitor wildlife movements.
· As difficult as it may be at times, never turn and run away from large carnivores as this could elicit or trigger a natural predator/ prey response by the animal which could lead to an attack.
· Keep your pet dog(s) on a leash and under control at all times when in the forest. There are many examples of where the dog off leash has run wildlife and in turn been pursued back to their respective owners, resulting in potentially dangerous consequences.

The Conservation Officer Service have the authority under the BC Wildlife Act to take enforcement action where warranted to stop or correct a person’s poor judgement or practises from placing any attractant where it is accessible or in an area where large carnivores are known to occupy. The offender will be issued a Dangerous Wildlife Protection Order, which will identify measures that need to be taken to stop attracting wildlife, that carries a voluntary fine amount of $345 if not adhered to.

Education and public buy in and awareness are key factors in minimizing human/bear encounters and conflicts. The people of Cortes Island are proud of their natural environment and live in harmony with wildlife that they share the island with.
I hope this will be of a benefit to your readers and should you want to discuss or clarify any of its contents, please feel free to call me directly at 250. 337. 2426.

Kind regards.
James Hilgemann