People are the Problem, not Bears – Expert says

Marwa Elgabry / October 17th, 2019

The safety of bears and people are intertwined in a complex relationship that Lana Ciarnello, Independent Research Scientist at Aklak Wildlife Consulting, hopes to address through a call for action.

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As bears move out of their natural hunting grounds and encroach on B.C. communities, six black bears were euthanized between October 14th and 16th in West Kelowna. The animals were killed after feeding on litter left out by a business. This problem bear behaviour continues to be an issue, which a local wildlife biologist said people are the root cause of. Lana Ciarnello, Independent Researcher Scientist and Sole Proprietor at Aklak Wildlife Consulting, is calling for action to curb the problem at the source. She explained how businesses and individuals’ negligence to lock up their garbage is sparking dangerous bear behaviour at a critical time in the season. Bears are currently in hyperphagia, a stage of expressive eating to gain weight in preparation of hibernation. In this phase, easily accessible attractants left out by people can lure hungry bears at a vulnerable time.

“It’s easier to gain that weight eating our garbage and what we’re throwing away, than it is in the fall to go out and forge and try to find all those calories. So basically we have a human problem. And were seeing this and its increasing. Where people aren’t taking and managing their attractants.” – Lana Ciarnello, Independent Research Scientist at Aklak Wildlife Consulting

The startling three-day time span of the bear killings left a question of what needs to be done to avoid these repercussions.  Ciarnello called for heavier charges in penalizing people that fail to manage these attractants.

“Do I think the bears should be euthanized? I think the people should be charged, and I think we should be laying down way more fines. We have people who are unable to manage their attractants or they’re unwilling to – that creates the problem there. I’m famous for saying, “problem bears are not born; they’re made out of human ignorance”, and it’s really true. The best thing to do would be to get in at the root of what’s causing the problem and to stop it at the source.” – Lana Ciarnello, Independent Research Scientist at Aklak Wildlife Consulting

As Ciernello highlighted, its easier for bears to forage in urban communities where food is more easily accessible than in the wild; however, this ease of access is only one of the reasons that these carnivores are venturing out of their natural hunting grounds. This proved to be the case at the heels of what Ciernello described as a natural food source shortage.

“Overall, we have seen a decline in salmon stocks throughout all of our systems. And we know that is concerning. With global warming, it gets difficult for the fish because the water temperature is quite warm. On a system wide level on B.C.’s coast, we have definitely seen an overall decline in salmon stocks and that is concerning for sure.” – Lana Ciarnello, Independent Research Scientist at Aklak Wildlife Consulting

Ciernello said she’s seen a salmon failure in Knight Inlet on B.C.’s coast which has impacted grizzly bears native to the area. She said this decline is dangerous for bears living on the coast who are heavily reliant on salmon for their diet. According to Ciernello, salmon bears do not have as diverse of a diet as interior bears, and need a high-fat diet to gain weight before they hibernate.

Salmon stock declines along the west coast pose a risk for B.C. bears that are reliant on salmon for their food source during Hyperphagia.

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The problem of bears venturing into communities and urban areas continues to demand a need for solutions. Beyond heavier penalties for leaving out waste, Ciernello also discussed strategies for curbing the problem before bears move into these areas.

“I’m working with some great ranchers who have been wanting to do the right thing before grizzly bears recover in areas. They’re willing to put in things like electric fencing around operations that they know are going to have problems once bears come back. These are the kinds of things we’re working on. Getting in there, identifying what the problem is going to be before the problem occurs. So stopping it before that problem bear behaviour develops.” – Lana Ciarnello, Independent Research Scientist at Aklak Wildlife Consulting

According to research, Lana Ciarnello, Independent Research Scientist at Aklak Wildlife Consulting, says bear relocation poses a risk of conflict between new inhabitants and resident bears.

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A frequent question Ciernello receives is why the problem behaviour bears can’t be moved to a different location. She said relocation isn’t a feasible solution as there is a lack of empty habitat in the province. This means that moving a bear to an area already inhabited by other resident bears can create conflict between the animals. Another problem she pointed to is bears’ surprising ability to find there way back to the area or community they were displaced from.

“They have amazing homing instincts. We don’t know how, but they just come back – even if we move them great distances, they can do it. We thought they use the stars or some type of system there, but they can do it even the sky is completely covered in clouds. So they have amazing homing abilities.” – Lana Ciarnello, Independent Research Scientist at Aklak Wildlife Consulting

Even if the solution was feasible, Ciernello reiterated that this solution is only reacting to the problem, rather than truly addressing it. Taking action against people who she believes are aggravating B.C.’s bear behaviour problems, is Ciernello’s hope for change.