A black bear crosses the South Klondike Highway by Windy Arm in 2015. Human-bear conflicts have already caused 40 bears to be killed. (Myles Dolphin/Yukon News)

Yukon sees 40 bears killed so far this year

‘Most of these bear deaths can be prevented’

The number of bears killed this season as a result of human-animal conflict in the Yukon is “unusually high,” Yukon conservation officials say.

To date, 40 bears have been killed Yukon-wide, said conservation officer Aaron Koss-Young. This puts the Yukon “on par” to match the record for bear deaths in the territory, which occurred in 2012, when 61 bears were killed.

Last year 23 bears — 15 black and eight grizzlies — were killed in the territory.

“This is especially a lot when you consider that there is still three months of possible bear activity left in the season,” Koss-Young said. “Most of this started in May.”

These numbers represent animals killed legally by both conservation officers and by people who find themselves in a situation where their property is being damaged or they’re being threatened by a bear and they kill the animal for their own safety.

The most recent bear death — a female adult black bear — happened in the Whistle Bend subdivision July 23. A woman walking her dog off-leash encountered the bear along the trails and reported it to conservation officers. Officers “assessed its behaviour for quite some time,” Koss-Young said. The animal was acting aggressively and, due to its proximity to people, the officers decided to kill it.

A cub, estimated to be between one and two years of age, was discovered shortly after the sow — thought to be the cub’s mother — was killed. Koss-Young said the cub’s likelihood of survival is unknown, but is thought to be around 40 per cent.

Conservation officers were not aware that there was a cub with the sow at the time of their decision, Koss-Young said, adding that the sow may have been agitated by the presence of the dog.

The majority of bears killed this season were black bears, Koss-Young said. Black bears tend to be more curious and more tolerant of humans, he said.

The majority of these animal deaths have occurred in Whitehorse and Dawson, said Koss-Young. Nine bears have been killed in Whitehorse and 11 in Dawson, with Dawson being “extremely active.” The rest of the kills were spread out across the territory.

“Dawson has probably had to translocate twice as many as (the number they’ve had to kill),” said Koss-Young.

Koss-Young said the high numbers this year are due to the late arrival of spring vegetation and a successful breeding season last year, which has resulted in more cubs. This has driven bears towards other food sources.

“They are driven to seek out other food sources, like smelly human foods, garbage and livestock (which are) high calorie rewards,” he said.

With so many bear deaths this year, it begs the question of what can be done to reduce conflicts between bears and humans.

“Most of these bear deaths can be prevented…. They’re the result of food conditioning,” Koss-Young said. “People are being lazy — it all comes down to human behaviour.

“We want people to be voluntarily compliant — we don’t want to have to charge people — but we need to have that at our disposal.”

Koss-Young said education, especially for farmers, is key, as well as managing attractants, like garbage and livestock. Electric fencing, especially for poultry, is also key, he said.

Koss-Young said there has been increased bear activity in the Mendenhall area where there is a high concentration of farms with poultry. Conservation Officers will be holding an electric fence workshop July 27 at 7 p.m. at the Mendenhall Firehall to help address this issue, he said.

Changes to the way garbage is handled, especially in rural communities, is also important, he said.

“Yeah, it might be $500 for a bear proof bin, but it’s a one-time cost that will save bears and save us money in the long run because conservation officers won’t be off chasing bear activity all the time,” he said.

“It’s got to be a financial solution.”

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

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