During the seven-plus years that I have lived on the Sunshine Coast, I have had numerous encounters with wildlife - mostly deer in my backyard munching on the grass or trees, but on occasion, I have received a visit from a bear.
Being a city kid, I always find these encounters with nature fascinating and exciting. It's one of the many reasons why I love living here. Still close to the big city, but with nature close at hand.
But during the years living here, I have also had the unfortunate job of reporting on numerous human and bear encounters. Several times the story did not have a happy ending as the RCMP or conservation officer shot the bear because they were left with no choice. The bear had become habituated to the area and was feeding on the garbage left unattended by the homeowner or business.
These incidents should never happen. Fortunately, through education, this community is becoming more aware about bears and is slowly getting the message.
Calls to the conservation office for bear complaints were down considerably last year than in previous years - still not good, but a step in the right direction.
We had a very successful Bear Aware program that was making an impact in our community, but due to a lack of government funding, the program was disbanded several years ago.
Then came the emergence of the Sunshine Coast Bear Education and Resource Network - made up of many of the same volunteers who ran the successful Bear Aware program.
The network's mandate is to be the primary source of information about bears for the Sunshine Coast. They offer free residential consulting, bear safety courses for businesses and courses on non-lethal bear management as well as many other services. It's a great program, and I encourage all Coast residents and businesses to look them up on the web at www.livingwithbears.ca.
As the bears are waking up from their winter slumber, it is time for the community to get their bear sense and be more aware.
The provincial government this week released a number of bear tips, ones that I think bear repeating:
Keep garbage secured in a bear-resistant container or in the house, garage or shed until pick-up day, and return the containers to the secure site once they are emptied.
Pick ripe and fallen fruit daily and remove any unused fruit trees. Then donate that fruit to the Fruit Tree Project, the Food Bank or the Sunshine Coast Breakfast for Kids program. All of these Coast groups would appreciate the much-needed donation.
Put away your bird feeders. If you do have them out, keep the ground under the feeders free of seeds and nuts.
As it is prime barbecue season, be sure to keep your grill clean and store your barbecue in a secure area away from the prying paws of bears.
Keep your pet dishes and food inside, not out on your deck or patio.
Do not add meat products or uncooked food to compost. Turn compost regularly and keep it covered.
By following these simple steps, we can continue to be a bear aware community and enjoy nature - and we won't have the awful task of writing about bears being destroyed this year.