Ruby Cameron has lived with bears around for more than 50 years. Her home is perched at the end of a small side street overlooking the Columbia River, at the top of the Douglas Street hill. It sits right on a wildlife corridor that bears wander through regularly as they travel from Mount Revelstoke National Park to the river.
She’s used to seeing bears around her home. Last summer, one would sleep in a tree no more than 30 metres away.
This year, the bears got too close for comfort, so she called the Conservation Officer.
“They’re getting a bit too close and a bit too friendly. I could have thrown a stone and hit her,” Cameron told me. “I’m the last person who wants to see an animal killed, but I don’t want to see them on my deck either.”
I met Cameron last Wednesday while I spent a few hours accompanying Conservation Officer Dan Bartol on a patrol of Revelstoke. The CO was back in town to respond to more bear issues. He started his day in Golden, where he euthanized a problem bear first thing before driving to Revelstoke to deal with a bear that was causing concerns near the airport.
Three weeks ago, the last time he was in town, he received a report from a man who claimed a neighbour was actively feeding bears. “I knew there was at least one bear that was very habituated, that fought with the resident’s St. Bernard,” Bartol said.
He trapped a bear, but it wasn’t the one that was said to be causing problems. The bear, which had a prominent scar under its left eye, was released north of Revelstoke. More reports came in while Bartol was away.
A new trap was set and a bear was caught in it last Tuesday night. “Sure enough, it was the same bear that I released. He traveled quite a distance to get back to his old location and continue offending,” said Bartol. “This is the perfect example. I gave him a chance and he was back within a few days, right in the same neighbourhood, or worse. “He doesn’t get a third chance. He was euthanized.”
It was the 18th bear killed by the Conservation Officer Service in the Revelstoke area this summer. On Thursday, Sept. 15, another bear was killed in the Big Eddy bringing the total to 19, topping 2003 when 18 bears were killed. It’s the most black bears killed in the area since 1994, when 33 of them were killed, according to Bear Aware.
That year, an electric fence was placed around the garbage dump and since then the number of bears killed in the area has fallen dramatically from highs in the 50s to an average of less than 10 over the past 20 years.
Chart by Revelstoke Bear Aware.
Dan Bartol’s actions this summer have been controversial. A few weeks ago, I met with Ruth Kelly, the airport-area resident accused of “feeding bears.” She was incensed about her encounter with the CO, calling him all sorts of names.
“He was a young, snotty nosed arrogant little twit, wet behind the ears,” she said. “He was telling me every bear I shoot is going to be your fault. That is not fair.”
I met Kelly at her home, which is located on a large lot that backs onto a forest across from the airport. Her home has apple trees scattered about and her attitude is that if the bears eat from them, so be it. They wander through her property and she leaves them be.
“I have lived with the bears since I was in grade one. My dad taught me to be bear aware,” she said. “I’m not feeding them, I’m co-habitating with them. If they walk through my lawn, so be it.”
When I asked Bartol about the incident, he said he went to Kelly’s home due to a neighbour’s complaint. “I reminded her she was in a bear area and she had a responsibility to not let bears get into human food,” he said.
When asked why that was an issue in a rural area, Bartol replied it was still a neighbourhood with families living nearby. It was also important to not let bears become habituated to eating non-natural food sources.
“Several residents on that street were not happy that this habituated bear was being encouraged into their neighbourhood,” said Bartol. “If she could do a better job making sure they don’t become habituated, they have a better likelihood of survival. There’s lots of natural food for the bears so if they can be kept on natural food it’s much more advantageous to the bears and causes less conflict.”
Photo: A bear takes a nap by a home in Southside a few weeks ago.
I joined Bartol on his patrol outside a downtown restaurant where a bear had pulled over a grease bucket, leaving a smelly mess in the alleyway. Three bylaw officers were on site — they’ve been directed to crack down on the garbage bylaw. “This is our bread and butter right now, trying to deal with all the garbage and fruit trees,” one of them said.
According to the City of Revelstoke, 66 files relating to wildlife attractants were opened by bylaw enforcement since Aug. 12. Of those, nine resulted in tickets and 16 warnings were handed out. The fine is $100.
“We’re getting a good response from the people we talk to individually, but on the whole there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference,” the officer said.
While there, Bartol noted the restaurant’s garbage bin wasn’t locked. “You’d think with all the media attention that would have been dealt with long ago,” he said.
He said he would be issuing the owner an order to secure its attractants and would also issue a fine for attracting wildlife.
The restaurant isn’t the only one leaving garbage out unsecure. Pictures have been posted on social media of other violations.
We left the restaurant and drove to the Big Eddy, where Bartol received several reports of problem bears in a trailer park off Highway 23 South. The park was surrounded by trees and it wasn’t surprising that bears were wandering through.
There, Bartol met with Rodger MacNeill, who was keeping track of at least two bears that were causing problems. He said one bear wandered onto a neighbour’s porch and another broke into a resident’s shed and spread garbage through the bush.
“It seems like the neighbourhood for the most part is securing their garbage, but the bear was breaking in,” said Bartol. “Are they continuing to break into sheds?”
“No, but they’re not too afraid anymore,” replied MacNeill.
There were no signs of the bears during our visit but MacNeill said they would likely be back on Thursday — garbage day.
Photo: Conservation Officer Dan Bartol inspects a pile of trash dumped on a lawn on First Street West.
We drove to another home where garbage had been strewn about a few weeks before. There was some bear scat on the ground but no garbage. The scat suggested the bear may have been eating garbage.
“There’s no fruit pits or anything in there,” Bartol said, pointing to the scat. “Bears that are eating berries and fruits, you’ll see exactly what it is. You can tell what kind of fruit it is.”
Back in the truck, I asked Bartol for his assessment of the situation.
“I find it highly unlikely they’re not getting into anything. Most places have been hit here,” he said. “If (MacNeill) expects they’re going to be back right before garbage day, they’re going to get into garbage.”
Later that day I called Dennis Berarducci, who lives in a different area of the same trailer park. He said he hadn’t heard of any problems, but added that might not be the case elsewhere in the trailer park. They make sure their neighbours are aware of any bears but otherwise, they just watch them go by.
“They don’t bother us. We see them and we just let them walk through,” he said.
On Thursday, one of the bears MacNeill reported was back and getting into garbage. Bartol returned to the trailer park and euthanized the bear. It was the 19th bear killed in the area this year.
I spent only about two hours with Bartol and the patrol was fairly routine; we didn’t see any bears. We drove to a home on Third Street East where a problem bear was reportedly breaking into homes, but no one was there. Our next stop was Ruby Cameron’s house. A sow and her two cubs were getting into her neighbour’s fruit trees and then wandering close to her home.
“I’ve never let you know before because they’ve never been so close or so unafraid,” she said. “I’m getting just a little nervous.”
Bartol said he would talk to the neighbour about taking care of the fruit trees. “At this stage, nothing she described is aggressive behaviour, so I don’t think they’re candidates for being euthanized,” he said. “If she continues, and especially if she teacher her cubs, it becomes a multi-generational problem.”
We drove down the hill then past Okanagan College, where we turned onto First Street West. A wildlife corridor runs through the area and numerous reports of bears getting into garbage had come in.
We drove slowly up the hill when Bartol came to a quick stop where garbage had been dumped on someone’s front lawn. He went to talk to the homeowner, who said the garbage came from the neighbour. It had happened several times this summer.
No one was home next door so Bartol took a look inside their garbage bins, which were sitting outside. They would be getting a ticket and a stern note.
“I hope the message this bear is going to be destroyed because of your actions is going to sink in,” he said. “That’s more effective than a fine.”
We drove around a bit looking for more problems. We went through the alley between Victoria Road and First Street East, behind an apartment building that had a big garbage bin that was unlocked. “Throw a carabiner on it,” said Bartol. “It’s a $5 solution.”
Photo: A bear ripped the latch off the Legion Hall’s garbage shed to gain access on Monday morning.
At council last week, councillor Trevor English said he would be introducing a wildlife attractant bylaw at the next meeting, on Oct. 11.
Mayor Mark McKee said the city was seeing improvements but residents still needed to be vigilant in locking up their garbage and maintaining their fruit trees. “We are more concerned with being compliant than we are about fines,” he said. “Having said that, the community should keep doing the good job that it has been doing and hopefully we will have the bears moving on to greener pastures and finding food elsewhere instead of our garbage and back alleys.”
I talked to Dan Bartol again Monday morning. He said he just received a report of a bear breaking into the Legion Hall’s garbage shed. I walked over and saw a bear had torn the latch off the door and opened the shed to get at the garbage. There was a couple of visible food containers but mostly it was full of Keno tickets. Bartol said the bear had also been into the neighbour’s garbage, which had been left in the carport.
“The bear got a garbage reward and now its behaviour is increasing and accelerating and it’s breaking into places to get garbage,” said Bartol. “It demonstrates that when the bear is fed, it becomes a hazard.”
He will be returning to town to deal with that bear, as well as other issues that have been reported since he was here last week.
My final call went to Maggie Spizzirri, the new coordinator for Revelstoke Bear Aware. She took over the job at the start of summer, not realizing how intense things would get.
“It’s super unfortunate that all of these bears were killed but if there was any light at the end of the tunnel, it seems like the community and the city is talking about it and excited to make changes,” she said.
She’s been going around, talking to residents about ways they can secure their garbage and manage their other attractants. She was at the garlic festival on Sunday, where many people approached her with ideas.
Spizzirri said the Bear Aware Board of Directors was meeting this week and would be discussing what it would like to see in a wildlife attractant bylaw. They’ll be looking at things like garbage storage, fruit tree care, compost maintenance, outdoor freezers and more. “It will cover those things and it will be my job to talk about the new bylaw and say, ‘Here are all the things you can do to reduce those attractants,’ and let people know there is this new wildlife bylaw, but there’s these very simple things you can do to manage them so it doesn’t become a big scary deal to people,” she said.
She urged people to take extra precautions in securing their attractants. “We’re coming into hibernation season and bears require 20,000 calories every day to build up for hibernation,” she said. “It’s going to be very active for the next month or two.”
Interested in more reading on the bear issue? Read our previous feature, ‘Stop Killing Us,’ from the August 23 issue of the Review.