Calls for animal-proof waste bins as bears wake from hibernation

A mother and daughter’s efforts to improve garbage management and mitigate bear interactions in their Vancouver Island community is gaining traction as bears begin their sleepy emergence from hibernation.

Andrea Miller and her 16-year-old daughter, Alaina, have been calling on homeowners in View Royal — a suburb of Victoria — to better secure their garbage bins following the death of a mother black bear in their community last June.

“It was a really devastating day,” Alaina told CBC’s All Points West last week.

After numerous reports of the bear accessing “attractants” like food and garbage from insecure bins, the animal was shot by conservation officers in the Thetis Lake Regional Park area, leaving three orphaned cubs.

A mother and daughter standing beside a fence inside a park, which serves as a memorial for a dead bear.  Photos of the bear, flowers and letters are attached to the fence
Andrea Miller and her daughter Alaina Miller stand at the memorial they created for a mother bear killed last year in View Royal. (Submitted by Andrea Miller)

Andrea says the neighborhood frequently experiences wildlife interactions, as many homes border the park and lack protective fencing.

A new measure from the town of View Royal aims to help prevent other bears from facing the same fate.

Last week, council passed a motion to set aside $5,000 for a pilot project that aims to provide bear-proof bins for some residents in the neighborhood and educate people to leave garbage in secure closures such as sheds and garages.

“It’s a step in the right direction and I couldn’t be more pleased,” said Andrea, who along with fellow neighbor Melanie Austin, submitted a proposal to council for bear-proof bins.

“I would have loved if they would have done it for the whole town.”

A report by municipal staff, however, says a full-scale adoption of bear-resistant bins would escalate View Royal’s solid waste budget.

The bins, which have two latches on the top secured by carabiners, cost nearly $300 before taxes compared to the $140 garbage cans currently in place, town engineering director Ivan Leung said during last week’s council meeting.

The staff report suggests initiating a phased approach, beginning with community awareness on appropriate garbage and attractant storage during peak bear season.

Update on 3 orphaned cubs

Alaina has created a memorial in the forest for the deceased mother bear, who she named “Mama.” The memorial includes photos, flowers and poems penned by the 16-year-old.

“It was really sad, seeing those poor cubs,” Alaina said.

The three orphaned cubs were transferred to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Center following their mother’s death.

There, they have thrived, displaying typical bear behavior, says the center’s animal-care supervisor Derek Downes.

“They’re fantastic and doing really great,” he said in an interview with CBC’s All Points West.

“They were about 25-30 pounds when they came in and right now they’re all in excess of 100 pounds.”

Downes says the cubs will be released back into the wild this spring.

Cleaning up attractants

According to the Fur-Bearers, a wildlife advocacy group, the BC Conservation Officer Service kills approximately 500 black bears every year.

The group’s executive director, Lesley Fox, says the reason is mostly due to their reliance on garbage as a food source.

WATCH | Bears explore backyard playgrounds, empty dumpsters in Prince George:

Watch 2 minutes of bears being bears

Bears are out in full force in Prince George in northern BC, eating berries, exploring backyard swing sets and being disappointed by empty garbage cans.

“We all love seeing wildlife visit our yards, but when they’re drawn in by food sources, it can lead to behavioral changes that have significant consequences,” Fox said in a statement released Monday.

She says bears are more likely to cross busy streets and get closer to people when attractions like food scraps are available.

The BC Conservation Officer Service killed 603 black bears in 2023. Bears are killed at higher rates in northern BC, with the Fur-Bearers naming Prince George the deadliest community for bears in the province.

According to Northern Bear Awareness, 81 bears were killed in the city last year, which is more than twice the number of bears usually killed in a year.

A bear in a dumpster.
Wildlife advocates are urging people to secure or store their garbage in a way that does not attract bears. (Austin Schoonderbeek)

In an email to CBC News, the BC Ministry of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship said unsecured waste bins and fallen fruit are the main reasons bears risk entering residential areas.

Fox says it’s imperative people remove attractants that draw animals like bears and coyotes closer to homes.

She recommends keeping pet food indoors, cleaning barbecue grills and grease trays after use, and securing garbage bins until pickup day.

All Points West9:09View Royal residents near Thetis Lake Park to test bear-proof garbage bins

It’s been almost a year since a mother bear was euthanized in View Royal and her three cubs were taken to a wildlife recovery centre. This week, View Royal council voted to offer bear-proof garbage bins to some residents near Thetis Lake Regional Park with the aim of preventing wildlife conflicts. Hear from a resident who pushed for the change.

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