Black bear at Jasper National Park (W Lynch)
For residents of many mountain communities, a chance meeting with a coyote – or a bear – is nothing out of the ordinary. Increasing human development has reduced the amount of natural habitat available to wildlife, causing some species to rely more heavily on urban landscapes. Using developed areas can be beneficial to some species, but can also create conflicts. For instance, residents may contend with “problem” bears rummaging through their garbage or backyard gardens.
To better understand how bears are viewed by those of us living amongst them, researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia conducted a survey in the community of Prince George, BC. They found that over half of the participants had encountered at least one black bear in the previous year and that bears were frequently sighted inside the community. Perceptions varied, but most residents felt either positively or indifferent about the presence of bears in their city. The majority indicated that they personally took precautions to avoid attracting bears (for example, picking all the fruit in their yards), but opinions were divided on how urban bears should be managed. Management suggestions ranged from introducing restrictions or fines for residents attracting bears, to relocating or euthanizing the bears themselves. Overall, attitudes on sacrificing bears were split, with about half of respondents suggesting that euthanasia may sometimes be required.
Despite mixed opinions, respondents clearly preferred non-lethal approaches to managing bears in their community. Given the generally positive view of bears and the large number of people already taking measures to prevent conflicts, this study suggests that residents are willing to consider a range of management options and offers hope that we may yet learn how to better share our mountain spaces with our wild neighbours.
This is a summary article authored by Charlie Loewen. For further information, please see the original published research:
Annie L. Booth & Daniel Ryan (2016) Goldilocks revisited: public perceptions of urban bears in northern British Columbia. Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 21:460–470 (doi:10.1080/10871209.2016.1183730).