Bears! They are endearing and adorable and fill up our social media with hilarious antics. But despite this cuteness, they are still 400 pounds of wild animal with large claws, teeth, and unpredictable behaviours, and this is why dozens of human-habituated bears get put down each year. Without their inherent fear of humans, they become a risk to people, kids, and pets. Nobody likes hearing about an animal dying, and each year there is a lot of sadness around bear euthanization, along with the frustrated feeling of ‘Why kill them? Why not relocate them?’
The sad reality is: relocation doesn’t work. The idea creates a nice picture of the nuisance bear being plopped in the middle of the forest to live happily ever after but this is rarely what happens. What happens most of the time is one of the following things:
1) That bear returns to the same place. Bears roam constantly and have excellent memories for a good food source (aka its old neighborhood). A bear will travel hundreds of kilometers to find food and, if relocated, will probably eventually return to the original location. OR, 2) That bear finds a new place to be a nuisance. Even if the bear doesn’t find its way back to the same neighborhood after relocation, it still has the knowledge that human settlement = food. Given how much it can travel, it’s likely the bear will find a new town and become a problem there. OR, 3) That bear suffers and maybe even dies in its new home. Nature is not always peaceful; often she is cruel and brutal. A bear dropped far away in a brand new area doesn’t know where food or water is, where to find sleeping areas, or where it is safe to hibernate. If it cannot find all these resources, it will die. Even if it does find them, it will be competing with other resident bears, which can lead to conflict and even result in death.
So if habituated bears cannot be relocated, what can we do to help stop problem bears from being euthanized? We stop habituating them in the first place. If a bear wanders into human areas and finds nothing to eat, it will leave. To ensure you and your neighboors don’t accidentally contribute to bear habituation, make your yards bear-UNfriendly with these simple tips: -Keep garbage indoors until collection day and only put out the (bear-proof!) containers the morning of. This may mean waking up early, but it’s only once a week. -Pick fruit and nut trees as they ripen and stay on top of vegetable harvests. Do not let produce remain on the ground or on the plant at the end of the season. -Avoid blood meal or fish fertilizers in the garden when possible. -Store pet food and livestock feed indoors or in secure buildings/sheds. Remove uneaten food. -Remove bird feeders in late summer and fall. If not possible, ensure feeders are a minimum of 10 feet off the ground, are not hung from a house or deck, and are more than 10 feet away from a tree trunk. -Clean your grill each time it gets used. Grease and meat residues can be smelled from far away. -If you see a bear (and it is safe to do so), make lots of noise by yelling, clapping, blasting a horn, or anything that reinforces to the bear that human areas are scary. -Help each other! We’re in this together – even just one person attracting bears by accident can create a problem. Assist friends and neighbors in making their yards Bear Smart and let them know how it can keep everyone (bears included) safer.