James Murray tells a story for a small crowd at the ORL Salmon Arm branch.

COLUMN: Be smarter than the average bear

Spring is here, which means bears are going to start showing any time now.

Spring is here, which means bears are going to start showing any time now.

They’ll be hungry after a winter’s hibernation and will be looking for whatever they can find to satisfy their hunger. The worrisome thing is that too many bears have learned how to rummage around people’s backyards in search of an easy meal.

Incidents of bears coming into backyards or feeding off garbage in landfill sites have become all too commonplace here in the Shuswap – incidents that could, for the most part, be avoided.

The altering of bear behaviour, known as food conditioning, combined with a loss of fear of humans through repeated contact, known as habituation, can lead to potentially dangerous, if not disastrous bear-human contact and conflict situations. And it is the bears who pretty well always come out the losers.

We all need to keep in mind two important things when it comes to bears. First, when humans enter into certain areas, we are entering their territory and, secondly, bears are very protective – of their young and their food sources.

The most effective way to prevent bear-human contact situations is to simply stay away from areas where there is a likely chance of crossing paths with a bear. Another is to learn about bears and their habits when entering areas where they live. Learn to recognize signs of bears and understand the potential danger. An ounce of prevention can go a long way in preventing contact.

Inadvertently coming across a bear on the trail is one thing, being responsible for attracting bears is another. Too many bear-human contact situations arise from people unwittingly attracting bears into their yards and/or campsites with food.

Prevention starts in your own back yard. Clean up anything edible (to bears) such as garbage, bird seed, compost and fruit that has fallen from trees.

Keep garbage in a secured container, garage or shed until pick-up day and return the containers to their secured site once they’ve been emptied. Pick ripe and fallen fruit daily.

Use bird feeders only in winter months and keep the nearby ground free of seeds and nuts. Clean your barbecue after each use and store it in a secured area. Store pet food and food dishes inside. Do not put meat products or uncooked food into your composter.

When camping, put away or remove any food that might attract bears. Store food away from your tent or trailer when camping. If you do end up confronting a bear on the trail, in camp or in your yard, remain calm and keep away from the bear. Never approach or attempt to chase a bear, as bears can move very quickly. Once the bear has left the area, check to ensure there are no attractants that will draw it back. In most cases, it is probably wiser to leave the area as soon as possible rather than risk further contact.

The thing is, bears are large, strong, fast and dangerous. They tend to become more unpredictable and brazen when they are hungry – when coming out of hibernation. Bears will take even greater risks when they have become starved because natural food sources are limited or no longer available.

While there is little food value in garbage, it is never-the-less food, and a hungry bear will do virtually anything to get at something to eat.

Humans, as well as their dogs, can represent a food source as much as a danger to a hungry bear.

All bears should be seen as a potential threat.

When out walking a dog, keep it on a leash and keep an eye out for signs of stress with your dog. They will know of a bear’s presence in the area long before you do. Again, turn around and leave the area.

It is ironic that by cutting down trees, clearing land and building homes in areas that were once natural bear habitat, we have displaced bears while at the same time lured them back by leaving easy food lying around for them to feed on – in too many cases, a no-win situation for the poor bears.