There have been no bears killed by conservation officers in Nelson and area so far this year.
This follows a tragic year with 21 deaths throughout 2022 in the region between Taghum and Queens Bay.
“There have been very minimal calls,” said conservation officer Nathan Smienk on Aug. 31. “I have been told there are a few bears around, but last year was much busier.”
But the summer is not over, and tree fruits are ripening.
Lisa Thomson, the co-ordinator for WildSafe BC in Nelson and Kaslo, says there is an increase in reports of bears in fruit and nut trees recently.
“Residents are reminded they have a responsibility, by law, to glean the fruit and nuts as they ripen,” she said, “in addition to cleaning the windfall from the ground to prevent wildlife and rodents coming into their yards.”
The Nelson Community Food Centre’s Harvest Rescue program sends out trained volunteers to pick unwanted fruit from trees in the Nelson area.
But Thomson said she is still concerned about garbage and continues her quest to habituate Nelson residents to good waste practices.
She occasionally travels the city’s neighbourhoods the night before garbage collection day, and places a tag on any garbage or recycling that has been put out the night before, in contravention of city bylaws.
The tag is a friendly warning and carries no penalty. It explains that any food odour will invite bears into town and that waste should not be put out until the morning of pickup.
Among Nelson neighbourhoods, Fairview always earns the most stickers — many of its residents are “notoriously bad” says Thomson — and on her overnight trip through the neighbourhood on Aug. 31, she handed out 11.
There is a handful of repeat offenders in Fairview and upper Uphill, she said, adding that many residents still think it acceptable to place recycling out the night before collection because they think it’s clean.
“Despite cleaning recycling products, they can still be a wildlife attractant as some residual food smells remain,” she said. “(Even if) wildlife are not gaining a food reward with clean recycling, it can still be an invitation into town.”
In June, Mayor Janice Morrison promised stricter enforcement of the city’s Waste Management and Wildlife Attractant Bylaw. She said the city so far had taken an educational approach.
Deputy police chief Raj Saini told the Nelson Star that so far this summer, bylaw officers have handed out 12 tickets and given eight verbal warnings. He said he has no record of corresponding numbers from 2022.
The bylaw provides for fines of up to $2,000.
Gillian Sanders, environmental educator at Grizzly Bear Coexistence Solutions in Meadow Creek, said the reason for the absence of bears so far this summer across the West Kootenay has been the good berry crop in the mountains, in contrast to a meagre crop last summer.
“Natural berry crops are dependent on weather and on pollination in the spring,” she said. “If it is raining in pollination season the flowers don’t get pollinated and don’t produce berries. It’s a combination of enough sun at the right time and rain at the right time. It is normal for berry crops to fluctuate in terms of productivity.”
Sanders said the lower number of bears this year in urban areas could in part be a result of the high number of bears euthanized by conservation officers last summer. She said those may have been the bears most habituated to garbage.
“After those bears are destroyed it is fairly common in the community to have a year or two afterwards where there are fewer bears,” she said, adding that the challenge now is to avoid starting a new cycle of food-conditioned bears.
She emphasized that these comments are not a criticism of the actions of conservation officers, which she supports.
Sanders said the summer food supply affects bear survival through a process known as delayed implantation.
Even though a female bear may have mated in the spring, the egg does not implant until the fall, depending on whether she has eaten enough food.
“The female after mating will carry the fertilized egg, but it will not implant until the point where she goes into the den and her body makes a physiological decision: whether there is food enough to support the pregnancy through the time of hibernation.”