| Oct 29, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - October 29, 2009 “We have a people problem,”says MNR Officialby Jeff Green

Eugene DeShane, from the Kingston office of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Eugene DeShane, from the Kingston office of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), told an audience in Verona on October 21 that most nuisance bear problems that have been reported over the past few years have been the result of human activity.

A case in point is the bear (photo left, see story)  that was shot by police in the Village of Sydenham earlier this year. As part of his talk, which was organized by the South Frontenac Natural Environment Committee, DeShane showed a slide of a large commercial–style garbage bin that was overflowing with bags of garbage. It had been ransacked by the bear that ended up being shot.

“Bears are extremely smart,” DeShane said, “and they are very opportunistic feeders. They spend all their time looking for food, and will eat almost anything. That's why they are found at dump sites.”

Bears need to put on a layer of fat during the summer and fall in order to support their bodies during winter hibernation, and their metabolism has adapted so they can accumulate fat from the berries and apples that are a mainstay of their diet.

Female bears have cubs every second year, and the cubs stay with the mother until the fall of their second year, when they are sent off. These juvenile bears are the ones that have the most encounters with humans because they don't yet know how to fend for themselves and they are often attracted to the easiest food source.

“Bears will eat oil cans, they will eat any kind of food; they will steal acorns from squirrels,” said DeShane.

The main problem, then, that humans face with bears has to do with the storage of food and garbage.

“Bears don’t know that what they are doing is wrong,” said DeShane, “they remember where they have found food and they will return until the food source is gone. The best way to avoid bears is not to leave attractants lying around.”

Bears can open garbage bins and remove even the heaviest of lids. Cleaning gas BBQs is a good idea, as is taking down bird feeders at the end of spring, DeShane added. Cat or dog food on a deck will also attract bears.

The best thing to do when a bear is around is to stay out of the way and avoid confining a bear in any way. When bear encounters do occur, the instinct to run away is not a good one. “A bear will outrun you every time,” said DeShane, “and retreating to the water will not help either. Can they ever swim.”

Bears that are stressed will huff and puff, making a clicking sound and swat at the ground. That is the signal to back off.

A predator bear will stare at you. “Predatory bears, they are very rare, and we don't know why some bears are that way,” DeShane said. “They keep their head down, their eyes fixed on you and keep getting closer and closer to you.

“At that point the best thing to do is to make yourself large, keep looking at the bear, and walk slowly away. Shout at the bear to go away, and throw rocks or sticks at it. If the bear attacks, fight with all you can. Don't play dead.”

But as DeShane said, predatory bears are very rare, but so-called nuisance bears are common.

The MNR has set up a hotline to deal with bear problems that recur or situations that are not being resolved. It is 1-800-514-BEAR (2327)

After his talk, Eugene DeShane answered questions for about 20 minutes from the 40 or so people who attended the talk.

To the inevitable question about increases in bear sightings being linked to the end of the spring bear hunt, DeShane said, “I don't know. Since the bear hunt was cancelled there have been more encounters, but there are other factors. In Northern Ontario the bears are very thin; the berry crops have not been good, so they may be moving south. There certainly has been more activity in the south.” 

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