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REPORTING · 3rd December 2009
Walter McFarlane
The results are in and Kitimat City Council is on the right track!!! At least as far as ending bear human conflict is concerned. Last June, Grant MacHutchon was in Kitimat to do an Bear Hazard Assessment of Kitimat’s bear/human conflict areas. He brought back the results to the Kitimat City Council on November 23rd.

“A Bear Hazard Assessment, which is one step of six major steps in what the provincial government has put together, they call a Bear Smart Program. This is to try and get communities more bear friendly so there are less issues around property damage and potential human safety issues and also less bears dying around communities largely because of the attractants that are available in the community that may draw bears in. Or bears who are wandering around the community get access to these attractants which leads into food conditioning which then leads into bears causing problems and being shot,” said MacHutchon .

He stated that the Kitimat Councils recent bylaws from 2008 are steps in the sequence which coincided with the first step.

He explained that bears are motivated by food. They typically eat three types of food during the year. Early in the year, they eat green vegetation, in the summer, they eat berries and when the salmon arrive, they eat those. The point is, they need to eat throughout the year to survive the winter and if there is a lack in this area, they will start to be enticed by other available foods.

MacHutchon explained that if bears can get into human food regularly, they become conditioned to that food and this typically leads to their death in the name of public safety. Bears can go to great measures to get at the food reward. The only way to stop this is to not let it happen in the first place.

“In my mind, the District of Kitimat has made a lot of progress over the years in terms of trying to reduce attractants over the years considering you are in an area with a lot of bears and prime habitat,” said MacHutchon . He cited the fencing of the municpal dump, the closing of the Eurocan dump, the Bear Care Committee and other steps taken by the district including the garbage bin on the dike road for fishers, replacing non bear resistant garbage cans, improvements at Radley Park and bylaw changes from 2008 as examples.

To do the report, he contacted the local conservation officers about where bears are spotted in the community, when this occurs and where bears are killed. Graphs going back through out the years were a part of the slide show and they showed several peaks where there were natural food shortages.

The next slide showed bears killed and bear complaints on a map of Kitimat. The map did not reflect all the complaints and kills, just the locations. The next couple of slides showed habitat, natural foods and non natural foods. He explained that Kitimat is the perfect habitat for bears, it has lots of natural foods and plenty of green spaces to walk through.

Looking at garbage as a non-natural food source, MacHutchon started a review at the schools. He stated that most of the schools do have storage bins for large volumes of waste which are bear proof. However, they still haven’t replaced all the garbage cans around the buildings with bear proof garbage cans.

In parks and greenbelt, many garbage cans were upgraded between the time the report was written and November. One of the problems he brought up with restaurants was that many of the bear proof garbage cans were broken or propped open thus making them far less bear proof. One set of bins were still in good condition but only because people were not using it and were putting the garbage into the open bin for cardboard.

One bin that drew plenty of attention was a bin at the dike that was put there for people camping to put their waste. However, it overflowed making it accessible to bears. Looking at another one that was not closed properly, he added: “Its just laziness on peoples' part, closing the lid.”

The next few slides concerned brands of bear proof bins followed by successful bear proof bins in Kitimat. He showed a picture of some trash in the woods and suggested that the home owners just threw it over the fence. Councillor Mario Feldhoff suggested that the garbage had been dragged there by a bear.

The next few slides dealt with areas with plenty of bears that cause complaints and kills. The greenbelt with the creek in the Kildala neighbourhood, the edge of Whitesale, the hospital and Cablecar. He suggested that people around areas that bears tend to be seen should be controlling their garbage so as not to reward the bears.

His advice was to work to reduce attractants and educate people as to the purpose of the bylaws. However, MacHutchon said Kitimat has progressed at reducing attractants. Some issues are simple to solve while others will take some effort.
Waste of money
Comment by Ben Christie on 3rd December 2009
What an original thought, bears motivated by food, who would have thunk it. And we paid how much for this expert?
Town council and our own conservation officers didn't know this? Or what steps to take? Try some common sense. Works for me.