Black bears on the move: more heading south on Vancouver Island, facing limited territory

Black bears on the move: more heading south on Vancouver Island, facing limited territory
WatchBlack bears move into urban areas as the population grows, with the next generation of cubs looking for new territory and food.

We share Vancouver Island with bears, a whole lot of them.

“In the last 36 hours, we’ve received four bear sightings in Saanich,” said Sgt. Damian Kowalewich with Saanich Police.

“A lot of our residents are obviously alarmed by this and it’s a higher number of sightings than usual.”

But black bears have called Vancouver Island home long before there were towns or cities.

“Vancouver Island is bear country,” said Derek Downes, an animal care technician with North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre.

“We have one of the highest population densities of black bears in the world. They say there are about 120,000 bears in British Columbia, and on Vancouver Island, there’s between 7-8,000.”

But on the south Island, residents are not used to having them around.

“Oh no, not in an urban area, not in 10 Mile Point anyway,” said Rosalie Goh, who lives in the area.

“No, never. Cougars, but never a bear,” said Gaylen Potash.

But that is changing. Bears are back in backyards in increasing numbers.

“This year is a much busier year than the last couple of years. So higher than average,” said Sgt. Scott Norris, a B.C. Conservation Officer.

And experts say that’s because black bears have been busy breeding. And now, the young ones are setting out on their own.

“Territory is limited down there. So, they’re just pushing further and further into the areas people haven’t maybe seen bears in a really long time,” added Norris.

And it seems, they’re pushing south.

In the past month, there have been dozens of bear sightings from Langford, View Royal, even so far south as Saanich.

And experts say they’re all looking for food.

Black bears are well-rounded omnivores and actually eat primarily vegetation. But when you need to pack away 6 to 8,000 calories every day, that’s a full-time job.

“They can get that same amount of calories in about an hour or two going through our garbage,” said Downes.

When bears start associating people as a food source, it becomes dangerous.

“Bears get habituated to the garbage and learn to live in our neighbourhoods. Then they become habituated to people, and that potentially increases the risk to the public. And then, unfortunately, we’re forced often to destroy those bears,” said Norris.

“You can’t relocate a garbage habituated bear.”

Conversation officers already had to kill one bear this week in Langford.

They are once again reminding residents to lock up garbage, keep pet food inside, watch that birdseed from feeders doesn’t scatter, and even go so far as to clean barbeque after each use.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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