Around seven bears killed so far this year, Environment Yukon says

A series of high-profile bear conflicts the week of June 10 has Environment Yukon urging the public to be careful, carry bear spray on outings, and properly manage garbage and livestock.

A series of high-profile bear conflicts the week of June 10 has Environment Yukon urging the public to be careful, carry bear spray on outings, and properly manage garbage and livestock.

A grizzly bear recently tried to snatch a bag attached to a bicycle on the Dempster Highway, Environment Yukon said in a June 15 news release. The bear was driven off by bear spray.

During the same week, bears entered homes in both Teslin and Echo Valley. In Teslin, the bear broke into a house where no one was home, raiding the fridge and garbage. In Echo Valley, the bear entered a house while the owner was home, but was frightened off by a pet cat.

All three of these incidents indicate bears that have been habituated to human food, said Aaron Koss-Young, a conservation officer specializing in human-wildlife conflict management.

“Bears don’t go from zero to 100 (with human conflict),” he said. “It’s a slow process.”

Koss-Young said in the case of the Dempster bear, it may have previously been fed along the highway, either in the form of garbage or by humans baiting it in order to get a photograph.

In all three cases, once bears become habituated to humans and human food sources, it is almost impossible to deter them from seeking those sources out again and they quickly become dangerous, he said.

“A bear will seek out those food sources again and again,” said Koss-Young. “The calorie rewards are huge. Chewing on a chocolate bar is way better for a bear, calorie-wise, than chewing on a dandelion.”

Conservation officers have three main choices when dealing with problematic or dangerous bears, Koss-Young said: relocation, aversive conditioning or killing the animal.

In the first option, a bear, usually one that has not yet been accustomed to attractant food sources, is trapped and moved to a more suitable location. This often fails because bears can cover huge distances in a short time, and have “a strong homing instinct,” Koss-Young said. This was the case with a sow in Riverdale, who was trapped and relocated last year, but later returned from 100 kilometres away and is now successfully raising her cubs in the area.

“She’s a good bear, we want to keep her there,” said Koss-Young. “She stays away from people and attractants.”

Bears that are caught and return are much more difficult to trap, said Koss-Young.

In the second option, called aversive conditioning, conservation officers use non-lethal deterrents to discourage a bear from returning to an area.

Both these options were recently employed in Pelly Crossing, where two young grizzlies were frequenting the area. One was captured and relocated. The other remains in the area, but is being subjected to aversive conditioning, including rubber bullets.

The final option, killing the animal, can happen either when a conservation officer determines a bear is a threat to the safety of the community, or when a person kills one in defence of themselves or their property. Whether a bear has been food-conditioned plays a large role in deciding whether or not conservation officers kill a bear.

The Teslin bear was killed by conservation officers for the safety of the public.

Environment Yukon does not keep data on the number and frequency of calls regarding problem bears, but it does keep numbers on how many are killed each year. About half of bears are killed by conservation officers and half by the public.

In 2016, eight grizzlies and 15 black bears were killed in conflicts.

To date, Young-Koss said he estimates seven bears have been killed this year.

With these recent human-bear conflicts, conservation officers are reminding the public to properly manage garbage, outdoor freezers, livestock and dog food. People can report problem animals or Wildlife Act violations to the TIPP line at 1-800-661-0525.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

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