While the City of Whitehorse has bear-proof garbage bins, there is nothing forcing residents to use them, conservation officer Aaron Koss-Young says. (File/Yukon government)

Bear-proofing laws exist but are limited, Yukon conservation officer says

‘We want to focus on getting people’s co-operation through education’

When it comes to Yukoners who don’t properly store or dispose of bear attractants, conservation officers (COs) prefer education over punishment, said a human-wildlife conflict prevention CO, but the law does give them some power to crack down on violators.

However, recourse can be limited.

“Obviously, we want to focus on more of a progressive approach and getting people’s co-operation through education … (but) conservation officers are not adverse to charging someone in the situation where we’ve made that front-end approach to the person … and they’ve just simply refused to do it,” CO Aaron Koss-Young told the News.

The reminder comes during a season when the territory is set to meet the record for the most bears killed in a year (61). As of last week, 55 bears had been killed across the Yukon this year.

The overwhelming majority of human-bear interactions that end with a bear being killed are the result of someone leaving an attractant around, Koss-Young previously said, whether it be a chicken coop that’s not properly fenced in or hunting scraps carelessly tossed aside. Technically, those are punishable offences under the Yukon Wildlife Act.

A CO can order someone found in violation of that section to fix the situation within a set time. If they don’t, first-time offenders can face a fine of up to $50,000, a year in jail, or both, but in reality, Koss-Young said, “you’re not going to see penalties of that nature.”

“What we’d be seeking is a penalty that represents how much it would have cost to (fix the situation)…. The person would be required to install an electric fence or do something to mitigate this from ever happening again rather than asking for a fine,” he said.

By then, Koss-Young noted, it’s usually too late for the bear involved, but the hope is that the punishment will lead the offender to follow bear-safe practices in the future. It’s “rare” for anyone to be charged or fined after a bear has to be killed, he added.

“(If there) are situations where the person has known the bear has been doing this for a number of days or weeks or months and the person hasn’t taken any measures to prevent this from happening, hasn’t contacted conservation officers … absolutely, we would consider possibly prosecuting because that person just hasn’t done anything to help the situation or work with conservation officers at all to prevent these situations from occurring,” he said.

Several charges have been laid under the Wildlife Act this year, according to Environment Yukon, but exact numbers were not immediately available.

Where COs don’t have any power, though, is creating or enforcing any city or community-specific bylaws. For example, even though the City of Whitehorse has bear-proof garbage bins, there’s nothing that says residents actually have to keep the latch closed or even use them, Koss-Young said.

“It’s an approved receptacle for the disposal of garbage or compost … and we don’t have any ability to order anybody to do anything with that,” he said.

The city was presented with a bear hazard assessment report in the last year or two which included research on bear-proof bin use as well as recommendations on bylaw implementation and enforcement, Koss-Young said, but “has done nothing as far as following up with any of those recommendations.”

“We are trying to get back down to the table with the City of Whitehorse and other partners to try and get these ideas moving forward,” he said.

Whitehorse does have a waste management bylaw which prohibits anyone from “(setting) out waste in any manner or condition that harbours or attracts wildlife,” but bylaw services supervisor Tom Wyers said in his two years with the department, he’s never seen a fine or charge issued under it. Dawson City has similar bylaws, also under which no one’s ever been charged.

“We don’t get an overabundance of calls about that,” Wyers said, adding he was aware of the bear hazard report but didn’t know anything in regards to recommended bylaw changes, nor anything about other bylaws that might relate to bear attractants.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com