Bear conflict calls surge in B.C.’s northern Interior this year

B.C.’s northern Interior has seen a huge spike in bear conflict calls over the past six months, according to conservation officers, even after years of educating the public not to leave garbage in open areas as attractants for wild animals.

Many Prince Rupert residents were shocked when an adult male black bear was killed downtown by an RCMP officer on Sept. 10. Last Tuesday in Prince George, a female bear was put down by a conservation officer.

The number of bear-related complaints since April is unusual, said B.C. North Coast conservation officer Sgt. Tracy Walbauer, who has worked in his position for two decades.

“We typically have between 300 and 600 bear complaints a year, and we’re already at 900 and we’re just half way through the fiscal [year],” he said. “We typically don’t get busy until the fall.”

Walbauer said bear sighting calls come mostly from the growing Kitamaat and Terrace villages and rarely from Prince Rupert, but his team has received 14 reports this year from the city.

But it’s a far cry from the increase in bear sightings in Prince George, where conservation officer Sgt. Steve Ackles says there have been 1,270 reports of black bears.

A black bear wanders around by a park on McKay Street in Prince Rupert, B.C. (Jamie Lavallee-Pritchard)

Ackles has worked in his position for 15 years. He said Prince George destroys about 40 bears per year, but it has already put down 30 over the past six months.

“It’s disheartening,” he said. “Apparently, the public doesn’t want to save bears or keep themselves safe.”

Ackles said Prince George residents are responsible for the high number of bear sightings and deaths.

“You drive down any street in Prince George and you’ll see garbage cans stored in front of their garage doors,” he said.

The two cubs left behind by the female bear destroyed in Prince George were transferred to Smithers’ Northern Light Wildlife Society co-founded by Angelika Langen. 

She said it’s painful to watch the baby bears losing their mother, but people should be accountable for managing their garbage well, instead of blaming officers who kill the animals.

“Not pointing out where the problem really lies is not helping,” said Langen to Carolina De Ryk, host of CBC’s Daybreak North. “If you just gloss it over and not really control where the problem is, it’s never going to change.” 

Tap the link below to listen to Angelika Langen’s interview on Daybreak North:

The Northern Lights Wildlife Society is frustrated by the amount of attractants being left out in northern communities, leading to the shooting of bears and orphaning of cubs. 6:37

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