Black bears and human beings, aside from the occasional unfortunate interaction, have co-existed on the North Shore for over a hundred years. The bears are smart enough to know that human beings are dangerous, and vice versa. There has been an unwritten truce to stay away from each other’s territories, but that truce is starting to crumble as the urban built environment crawls further and further north into the forests on the hill. At the North Shore Black Bear Society, Christine Miller is starting to worry where all this urban growth may end up.
Miller, who lives in the Blueridge neighbourhood, is concerned about the huge growth in mountain bike trails, not only in her back yard of Blueridge but all across the North Shore. While she is quick to say that mountain bikers are generally courteous, friendly and do a great job of maintaining the trails they build, those same trails present new problems that could use some public discussion. For instance, the bike trails are now being used by several different groups that don’t always co-exist.
The mountain bikers are now facing opposition from professional dog walkers. There has been an extraordinary rise in the number of dogs in urban society everywhere in North America. All dogs need exercise, and many people who include dogs in their households don’t have the time to exercise their dogs properly. So they pay others to do so. The existing mountain trails meant for hikers, and the new trails built by bikers, are now being shared by dogs. While bikers and hikers can co-exist, often dogs and dog walkers and bikers don’t. Then there are the bears, now using these new trails as well. Where do they fit in?
According to Miller, the interface between wilderness and city has now decreased to the point where problems will soon start to assert themselves, and likely at the expense of the bears. Their feeding grounds, especially berry patches so vital to their diet, are disappearing. The summer of 2016 was a bad year for berries, a vital source of nutrients for black bears. If climate change brings dry summers to the North Shore, as predicted, this problem will increase.
Bears are being “displaced” from their traditional territory on the mountains by trails and new housing developments will only add to the concern. Bears have learned that creeks and canyons allow access down to the City and District, where lie juicy apples on abandoned trees and pizza boxes stuffed in the garbage. Garbage bears soon become dead bears, but Miller explains that North Shore residents are becoming well educated about their garbage. West Vancouver has adopted extensive bylaws and the District of North Vancouver is writing new by-laws, to be approved by staff and then written into law. New lockable carts will soon be made available in the District for raw garbage and organic foods. The Black Bear Society has sent out mailings to 1304 new residents of the North Shore to educate them about bears and ways to interact.
CMHC has started to post signs closing access to many trails on the mountain slopes, perhaps as a legal maneuver to avoid lawsuits, but trail usage continues to surge. The Blair rifle range next to Northlands has been closed, but there are rumours it will also be used for new housing developments. This will bring many more people – hikers, bikers, dog walkers – into close proximity with bears. The gap between bears and people is rapidly diminishing.
The last word in people and bear interaction is the sobering news that grizzly bears, also being displaced from their traditional territories, are starting to appear near the Lower Mainland. A grizzly was spotted and trapped near Squamish a few years ago, and tales are beginning to circulate about grizzlies being spotted near Indian Arm, not far from the North Shore. Some wildlife experts predict that grizzles will be seen in the Lower Mainland within the next decade.
Perhaps a discussion is required about the rights of bears, both black bears and grizzlies, and the need for their own protected territories as they become displaced from their traditional territory. Just as much as the rights and responsibilities of dogs and dog walkers and hikers and mountain bikers, as the interface between wilderness and city decreases daily.
To learn more about bears on the North Shore, log on to http://northshorebears.com