How one Okanagan community learned to live with bears | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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How one Okanagan community learned to live with bears

A black bear eyes up apples in a residential neighbourhood.
October 26, 2019 - 7:00 AM

As Penticton Conservation Officers put down five problem bears in the Penticton’s Wiltse neighbourhood yesterday, Naramata celebrated the five year anniversary of their successful bear smart program.

The communities appear to be miles apart when it comes to caring for bears.

Prior to implementation of the community’s bear smart program five years ago, five to six bears were being killed annually in Naramata, according to Zoe Kirk of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, who hosted the Naramata event.

Since then, only two have been killed, and both of those were diseased.

“Yesterday illustrated very clearly how one community 17 kilometres down the road can do something another can’t, and that is manage their garbage,” Kirk said.

She says other communities have the ability to do the same thing Naramata has done.

“It started with bylaw changes,” Kirk said. It was recognized some places are more susceptible to bears than others and what lures bears into communities is early placement of garbage onto the roadside.

Regional district bylaw changes restricted placement of garbage to 5 a.m. on the day of pickup.

An education program was also initiated.

“We tend not to fine so much as educate,” Kirk says.

She says Conservation Officers have a wide latitude of fines they can issue, typically $250 or beyond, while regional district fines start at $100.

“We haven’t used the fine. We educate and if there is recidivism, we call a Conservation Officer. They have bigger sticks,” Kirk says.

The bylaw changes also allowed Kirk to conduct ‘garbage audits,’ educating residents who were found putting out garbage early.

“Putting out garbage at the proper time reduced calls for problem bears from 75 to 100 to eight annually,” she says.

The number of residents dropping garbage at the curb early also fell from 80 to one or two, but Kirk says that number has crept up over time with new people moving into the community who don’t yet understand the implications.

Kirk says establishing the community as bear smart has encouraged peer to peer communication, where neighbours educate each other.

“It’s been exceedingly successful,” she says.

The program also involved offering bear proof carts for those in bear prone areas, such as near Naramata Creek.

“The community and its area directors were the drivers of this. People didn’t want to kill bears, they wanted to find a way of living with them. It’s an easy thing to do, theoretically. It’s not rocket science," she says.

Kirk says she’s in and out of schools all the time, educating students. But the basics can be adopted in any community in B.C.

"Kids get it, but unfortunately it’s not the kids who take the garbage out or clean up around their fruit trees,” Kirk says. “It’s basically just three simple things - manage your garbage, manage your fruit trees and look after your recycling.”

What happened in Penticton yesterday is exceedingly unprecedented. We just have not had that in the South Okanagan,” she says.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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