An image published by the Nelson Star on Sept. 16 was a disturbing one that rattled many residents of Nelson.
A semi-conscious black bear lay on the ground on a downtown boulevard in the 600 block Vernon Street. A conservation officer had just shot it with a tranquilizer dart, causing it to fall from a tree into which it had retreated in the early morning as Nelson residents headed to work.
As a group of pedestrians watched, the officers loaded the animal into a pickup to be taken away and euthanized.
Bears later became a municipal election issue. The unprecedented numbers of bears in town this summer caused most candidates to vow to improve waste management practices.
Conservation officer Nathan Smienk said the number of bears this summer was far higher than at any time in his nine years here.
The bear in the picture was one of 13 killed by conservation officers in 2022 within Nelson’s city limits. Officers say they only euthanize a bear if it is causing property damage or threatening people. This one, they said, had torn apart a downtown garage door.
According to conservation officer Ben Beetlestone, the berry crop in the nearby mountains was very bad this year, and because of the arid summer and fall other natural food sources dried out, sending the bears into town seeking enough protein and fat to carry them through the winter.
Lisa Thompson of WildSafeBC, speaking to Nelson City Council in September, said she knocks on doors in Nelson whenever she notices unsecured garbage storage, and she also puts a sticker on garbage that has been put out the night before, warning the residents that they could be fined. She expressed frustration that her efforts do not seem to change many individual residents’ behaviour.
Thompson thinks Nelson is a long way from being Bear Smart, referring to a BC Ministry of the Environment certification that requires municipalities to meet specific steps in managing waste and educating the public, as well as enacting strict waste bylaws and enforcing them.
The program includes a requirement that on city land or on private property there must be no waste receptacles that are not specially constructed as bear-resistant.
Mayor Janice Morrison has said that council will consider starting the process of becoming Bear Smart at council’s upcoming strategic planning session.