Black bears in the Okanagan have enjoyed a nice long slumber this year. Temperatures were not too cold, nor too hot. If the good weather continues, from mid to late March, they will soon awaken, and hunger will lure them out of their dens in search of water, a meal, fresh air and sunshine.
Cubs will have been born in the warmth of the den, sometime from mid- January to early February. Due to the pressures of nursing cubs and lack of food, sows can lose up to 35% of their body weight. So, when they emerge in the spring, they are thirsty and hungry; add maternal protection and it easy to understand why we need to be extra cautious about managing our attractants reducing the chances of luring them into our yards, and neighbourhoods.
Using traditional travel routes, spring will see sows, cubs, adolescent bears and big boars (mature male bears) moving up and down the creek beds and pathways between available water, food sources and their dens. Sows will often use backyards (where perhaps they have enjoyed a meal) as temporary shelter, especially if they fear a big male bear may be in the area. Boars are known to attack young cubs, so for the first few months sows are extra protective and can be a bit more defensive if they feel provoked.
Over the winter, we can get a bit lackadaisical about our garbage and refuse habits. Year round best practice around the home is to keep garbage locked up and secure until the morning of pick up. This includes recycling. Recycling can contain plastic food containers that continue to harbour the scents of foods packaged inside. If they are not washed as well as our human dishes, the scent can be really attractive to bears. With a nose that is 5 times better than the best tracking dogs, they can smell a potential meal a long way off. Birdfeeders should be taken down by Easter, and stored till next Christmas season. Bee hives should be secured by perimeter fencing, and any pet or livestock feed should be well secured in a barn, shed or garage.
Electoral Areas D, E and F in the Regional District have curbside garbage Bylaws in place, restricting residents to placing garbage to the curb after 5:30 am on morning of pick-up. Everyone is safer for it.
Even if your area does not fall under a curbside garbage Bylaw, it is sensible to implement the same protocols around garbage and recycling. Not only are the largest predators thwarted by such actions, but rats, racoons, dogs, and coyotes are also curtailed from spreading garbage. This is a safer, cleaner and definitely more neighbour friendly habit to implement.