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Bear tracking goes digital

People might be smarter than the average bear, but they're still slow learners. Human-bear conflicts are a perennial problem in Whitehorse, said conservation officer Ken Knutson.

People might be smarter than the average bear, but they’re still slow learners.

Human-bear conflicts are a perennial problem in Whitehorse, said conservation officer Ken Knutson.

“For years now, we’ve been trying to get the bear message out,” he said. “But we just feel that we’ve not been getting a lot of traction with the public, sometimes.”

It’s not for lack of effort.

“We put radio spots on every year, we put out a lot of published material, and we’re still getting calls for the same thing all the time, which is, “There’s a bear in my garbage, in my yard.”

So now they’re trying something new.

Environment Yukon has set up an online map of human-bear conflicts.

It’s modeled after one that the City of Kamloops put up last year.

After the map went up, Kamloops saw a drop in the number of human-bear conflicts.

Those results were only anecdotal but seemed promising, said Knutson.

“We thought, ‘If they’re having success down there, why don’t we try it here?’” he said.

Since the map went online two weeks ago, it’s received almost 800 hits.

Considering they’re just making the map public now, that’s pretty remarkable,” said Knutson,

It’s not surprising that bears are a popular subject in Whitehorse.

There’s already been about 30 bear-human conflicts reported in and around town, compared to 66 for all of last year.

“The way things are shaping up is similar to last year, which was quite an intensive bear year for us,” said Knutson.

So far, conservation officers have relocated four bears and killed three in the Whitehorse area. Members of the public killed another two.

“It’s not something we do lightly,” said Knutson. “We make a very concerted effort not to destroy bears.

“If we can intervene early on, then we’ll move the bear.”

Conservation officers relocate far more than they kill but relocating them is still far from ideal.

“What we’re doing when we relocate a bear is just moving a problem, sometimes,” said Knutson.

Moving a bear into another bear’s area can cause conflict in the wild, and if the bear tries to return to its home range, which happens, it can be tough on the animal’s health.

“They get in bad condition, they get distracted by other human activity, and we end up dealing with it somewhere else,” said Knutson. “The best thing is to just prevent it from happening in the first place.”

And that’s not hard to do. It’s simply a matter of people taking a little bit of responsibility in managing attractants, said Knutson.

Garbage and compost bins should be kept in a garage or shed, pet food should not be left out, and barbecues should be kept clean.

But sometimes the attractants can be difficult to control.

“We had one bear on the weekend that was actually clawing the siding off a house,” said Knutson.

It turned out that the house had an ant infestation, which was what the bear was after.

“Bears are opportunistic feeders,” said Knutson. “That’s how they evolved, to investigate any kind of food stuffs.”

With such a short time to put on fat for winter, nutrient-rich human garbage can be irresistible to a bear.

If they get a little bit of food they can quickly become very hard to deter, said Knutson.

“That bear that was in the trash can out at the rest stop, I shot him with a rubber slug twice and he came back,” he said.

While that bear was relocated, not all of them are so lucky.

“The more the public can do to actually help alleviate this problem with bears, the more it’s going to help us,” said Knutson.

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