There’s a Bear in my Yard!

Whether your yard is a camp-site, the area around your cabin or your fenced residential property, it is still disconcerting and sometimes frightening to have a bear that close to you. It’s more common than we realize because a bear may check out your space and finding nothing to attract and hold it there, and quietly move on in its constant search for something to eat.

Bears have super-keen olfactory senses, so they are chiefly attracted by smell. It doesn’t have to smell good to humans, it only has to have an odour to get the bear’s attention.

In the non-food category, the odours from chest waders, gas cans, inflatable boats and leaking propane are among the smells that attract bears. Food smells give them the reward of a meal or at least a taste. These include compost, garbage, pet food, barbecue or campfire grills, food scraps and improperly disposed dishwater, which always contains bits of food.

Last summer in Whitehorse, 17 black bears and two grizzly bears were killed because they were into garbage etc. around residential areas. Situations such as those are emergencies and must be dealt with quickly in order to keep the public safe. Many other bears were scared away through various methods and some were trapped and relocated.

Trapping sounds like a win-win situation, but it is time consuming, expensive in person hours and often ineffective because the bear goes back to the area where it was originally trapped.

These situations are often described as “bear problems,” when in fact they are more people problems. The bears are following their instincts, which include eating from the time they emerge from the den in spring until they return to a den in autumn. They have a natural curiousity, which, coupled with their appetite, gets them into all kinds unpleasant circumstances (for humans).

These situations end up poorly, often fatally, for the bear.

The most obvious changes in behaviour need to come from humans. Unfortunately, too many residents think it can’t happen to them or they simply don’t care.

But if you do care, here are some suggestions:

*Keep the compost and garbage cans in the garage if available. If no garage, keep the cans out of the sun where the contents are heated and give off strong odours.

*Put the garbage/compost out only on the morning of the pickup.

*Keep the grill clean on your BBQ or campfire grate.

*Don’t put pet food outside, or bring the dish in after feeding.

*When camping, burn all food scraps, burn and take home all tin cans and bury your dishwater some distance from camp. Absolutely no food inside tents — this includes children’s snacks.

We, the humans can change or adapt our behaviours while the bears and other wildlife are tied to routines by their instincts.

We are living and playing in the bear’s country. We are the visitors, and we need to show respect.

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