Human-bear conflicts and the number of bears killed in the Yukon dropped dramatically during the 2019 season compared to the past two years, Environment Yukon officials revealed Dec. 12.
There were a total of 163 bear incidents this year compared to 267 last year and 206 in 2017, Whitehorse district conservation officer David Bakica told reporters at a press conference recapping the bear season.
Thirty-three bears were killed in 2019 (22 by conservation officers, 11 by members of the public) compared to 54 and 65 in 2018 and 2017, respectively. The number of translocations also declined significantly, with 12 bears this year compared to the 58 from a year ago (10 were translocated in 2017).
One of the major factors contributing to the drop, Bakica said, was a good berry crop this year.
“This year we had a warm spring, the growing season was quite warm, the summer was one of the nicer summers we’ve had in the last few for sure, so there were good berry crops, good natural forage for the bears, and it’s all about food as far as the bears are concerned,” he said.
“If there’s good food for the bears naturally occurring, they are much less likely to get into conflict with the attractants, with the things that people have.”
By contrast, 2018 saw poor weather and by extension, a poor berry crop, which resulted in bears moving from natural food sources to readily-available, human-made ones — backyard fruit trees, berry bushes and gardens, for example.
Bakica described the 2019 numbers as ones conservation officers would expect to see during “an average year,” while the high numbers in 2018 and 2017 were a “blip.” Years with a high number of conflicts are typically followed by a drop, he said, because there simply aren’t the same number of bears around to get into conflicts.
The last “average” year was in 2016.
Despite the low conflict numbers this year, Bakica said issues still exist — in particular, conservation officers have seen more grizzlies getting into chicken coops. One bear in particular, he said, got into seven coops over the summer.
Yukoners considering getting chickens or other livestock should install an electric fence around their enclosure before the animals even arrive, he said. Yukoners should also be installing electric fencing around compost heaps, for example, and cleaning up the spillage from winter bird feeders.
“I like to think we’re making headway,” Bakica said of getting Yukoners to properly manage bear attractants. “I am encouraged by seeing a lot of the things people are doing right. The flip side is, we have quite a number of new people moving into the territory, new people moving out into rural residential areas and thinking, ‘Oh, it’d be great to have chickens,’ and they don’t take the time to think about, ‘Okay, we should electrify it.’”
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