Wildlife sparking complaints

North Okanagan conservation officers are on pace to double the amount of complaint calls they receive in a year.

North Okanagan conservation officers are on pace to double the amount of complaint calls they receive in a year.

From April 1 to Oct. 24, local offers had received 1,334 calls for service about problem wildlife in the North Okanagan zone. In 2010, there were 850 calls in total.

“By year end, we could double our problem wildlife complaints,” said North Okanagan Sgt. Josh Lockwood.

The zone currently sits fourth in the province for problem wildlife calls behind Sea-To-Sky, the Upper Fraser Valley and West Kootenay, zones that Lockwood said are traditionally high for problem calls.

Officers have had to deal with recent complaints of coyotes, bears and cougars killing sheep in Enderby.

One coyote that killed three sheep in Spallumcheen was snared by officers on Sunday.

But by far, the biggest complaint in the North Okanagan has been about bears, and Lockwood said it’s a time of year that is extremely difficult to trap bears because of the volume of food sources available to the animals.

“If you can’t offer them something more enticing that what they already have, they’re not going to go into the traps,” said Lockwood.

Bears are travelling around the fringes of the orchards where fruit is unpicked and those areas become a problem.

The bears go in and feed from the orchards, then travel into what Lockwood calls the “rural urban interface” and look for more food.

There are some suggestions for handling the fruit.

“If you’re not picking the apples, donate them to the food bank or make arrangements with the Upper Room Mission, they’ll have people come and pick the fruit and take it back to the Mission,” said Lockwood.

“We’re looking at ways of getting food sources removed so we can move the bears back into the upper elevations where they belong, or else we destroy them if they become a public safety issue.”

Lockwood estimates his office has killed nine bears in Vernon and Coldstream this year, which he said “is about average.”

Waste management is the key to reducing problem bear calls and Lockwood points to a resort area that is leading the way.

“We wondered why we never received a single bear complaint from Silver Star, which is traditionally a bear habitat, so, with permission from the general manager, we went and conducted an audit,” said Lockwood.

“We checked the residences, the apartment buildings and restaurants and their bear management program was outstanding. People were coming in reporting they had seen bears out on the grass runs off the bike trails, about two-to-three kilometres away from the village.

“But the bears weren’t in the village because there was no garbage there.”