Black bears are the most common large mammals on Vancouver Island.

Black bears are the most common large mammals on Vancouver Island.

Conservations officers ready for a busy season

A look at the upcoming season for local conservation officers

Bears will soon be occupying most of our local conservation officer’s time.

“This summer, it (dealing with bears) will be 80 per cent of my work,” said Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant.

Typically Casavant is called in when a bear has become habituated to eating unnatural food sources such as garbage, damaged property, or posed a risk to people and the animal ends up having to be destroyed.

“When it’s winding up on my desk, it’s because someone’s been hurt or someone might be hurt.”

If a bear is just in an area eating berries and other natural food, Casavant said, it is a candidate for relocation or hazing.

“If the bear hasn’t accessed garbage and it’s not displaying desensitized behaviour, that would be a relocation candidate.”

A black bear and her two cubs were successfully relocated by Casavant last year.

If a female bear has to be put down, its babies are saved.

“Our (provincial) policy is to relocate all black bear cubs,” he said.

If the cubs have been taught by mom to eat unnatural food, they are taken to the non-profit North Island Wildlife Recovery Association facility in Errington, by Coombs, to be rehabilitated.

Overseen by a board of directors and wildlife manager, Robin Campbell, NIWRA cares for Vancouver Island wildlife and strives to educate the public.

“They specialize in bears. They train bears to access natural food,” Casavant said.

The process is not a quick one, with cubs staying there about 18 months. It is also stressful for the young bears.

“It is hard on the animal to do these rehabilitation programs,” he said.

For this reason, phoning early about a potentially-problematic bear is key.

While black bears are natural to the Island, Grizzly bears are not.

Occasionally they have been known to swim over, but “there is no resident grizzly bear population on the island that we know of,” said Casavant.

“I’ve never actually seen one here on the Island,” he said.

The Vancouver Island black bear is one of the most common large mammals on Vancouver Island.

Contact with humans is frequent, especially in small coastal communities, where easy access to food remnants in garbage cans can entice the bears into the communities, causing conflict.

Vancouver Island bears are a larger, blacker version than their mainland cousins.

The Vancouver Island black bear females grow up to 180 kg, and the males reach 275 kg.

This is likely as a result of Vancouver Island bears being a genetically “older” variation, having remained relatively isolated from the mainland breeding pool.

Skeletons found in caves near Port Hardy indicate that the bear has been a resident of the island for as long as 10,000 years.

The Vancouver Island black bear is distributed throughout the entire island, with higher concentrations in the uninhabited low-lying forests.

Famous hotspots for bear sightings include Cape Scott Park, Sooke, Pacific Rim National Park, and Gold River.

The bear’s population on the island is likely around 7,000 (though estimates of up to 12,000 can be found), and is considered one of the densest in the world.

The Vancouver Island Black Bear has no natural predators.