Busy bear season expected this year

Local officials are expecting a higher than usual number of bears in town this year as a result of the prolonged dry spell.
“We are very busy. We’ve immobilized two [bears] already,” noted Arlene Byrnes, by-law enforcement officer with the Town of Fort Frances.
“This is very early for that,” she added.
One bear was a small male, while the second was nearly 300 pounds. Both were located in the central area of town, Byrnes noted. By-law officers received 22 calls in July regarding bears in town.
“That’s a lot for this time of year,” she said.
A lack of natural food such as berries is what is driving the animals into town in search of food.
“Because it’s been so hot, all the berries have dried up,” she explained.
“This dry weather has played havoc with the soft berry crops,” agreed Linda Wall with the local Ministry of Natural Resources.
As a result, the bears are widening their range of foraging to include local gardens and garbage pails.
Wall noted the bears do not come into town out of mischief or aggressive behaviour.
“They are biologically driven to eat huge amounts of food each day,” she explained, particularly in the months leading up to hibernation. “They go for the most readily available, fast food.”
That is most often people’s garbage, she added.
One of the main ways local residents can help deter human-bear conflict is by putting their garbage and recyclables out on the curb on the morning of garbage pick-up, not the night before.
“They love that stuff,” Byrnes noted.
Even larger garbage bins should be cleaned out to remove the smell, Wall noted.
“Bears will be attracted to the smell, even if the garbage is gone,” she said, noting they can smell trash from great distances.
Wall recommended rinsing the bins with water, then using a disinfectant with a strong smell, such as Pine Sol, to mask the smell of garbage.
Homeowners are encouraged to pick ripe fruit from trees, and pick up vegetables and fruit from the ground. If left, these begin to ferment, and the smell attracts the bears.
People should also be sure to clean off their barbecues after use, and to not feed their pets outdoors, where the pet food can also attract the bruins.
“They’ll just about eat any type of food,” Byrnes noted.
Wall noted that following these guidelines, part of the MNR’s Bear Wise program, can have benefits to the community beyond reducing the number of bear sightings in town, provided everyone cooperates.
The town of Elliot Lake in northern Ontario has had great success with the Bear Wise program, having significantly reduced the number of skunks, ravens, seagulls, and foxes in town, as well as bears, she noted.
“There’s some real advantages besides discouraging the bears,” she said.
But it’s important that everyone follows the guidelines.
“The people who are resisting good practices are making it difficult for the people who are using good preventive practices because they’re still impacted by the bears in the area. It needs to be a community effort,” she said.
Still, Wall noted people have become more conscious in recent years of the effect their behaviour has in attracting bears.
“We’re starting to see huge improvements in garbage management, in gardens and fruit trees,” she said.
She commended the town for installing bear-proof garbage containers around town.
Anyone spotting bears in town should call the OPP dispatch system at 1-888-310-1122. They can also report the bear sighting to the MNR’s Bear Wise hotline at 1-866-514-2327.