Backyard Bears

Photo Credit: Paul Glover

Backyard Bears

👤Jane Stevenson 🕔Jul 31, 2015

Our home, just outside of Telkwa, is nestled on the edge of 40 acres of rolling wilderness next to a provincial park. I see the first bears of the spring just as the aspens are leafing out. The mama bears show up first, passing through with their one or two or three black cubs. I’ve learned to glance up aspens for the danger sign of cubs clinging to the tree. Treed cubs mean a grumpy mama bear might be nearby and it is best to go away—and quickly.

The solitary male bears or young bears traveling alone can be glimpsed all summer, eating at ant piles or stalking along the backyard wilderness trails or skirting the edge of the hay field. If I see the bears before the bears see me I clap my hands or call out and I go the opposite way from wherever they are headed. The bear usually saunters away and you just catch a glimpse of its round black bum disappearing into the undergrowth.

Autumn is positively thick with bears; the saskatoon bushes shake with feasting bears and there are piles of bear poop everywhere. With so many bears around I’ve had to adjust my awareness and my habits.

Making a racket

Our family has adapted to living in this bear-filled wilderness. Our children were trained to call “Go Home, Bear!” when they leave the house for the yard. The thought was that the bears would hear the racket of my babies dashing outside and would turn away and lumber into the woods. Following the same thought I also clipped bear bells to diaper covers, made jingly bell anklets, and taped cardstock to the spokes of the double stroller so the thwacking would let the bears know us annoying humans were out and about.

My husband cut back the brush around the backyard swing-set because, let me tell you, it is positively unnerving to wake up at dawn, look outside sleepily to see a large black bear casually push past the swings and rub it’s enormous furry back against the kids’ yellow slide.

When my girls were really young, some genius invented these children’s shoes that had little squeakers built into their heels. Every step of the child would produce a squawk or honk. I’m sure that when these shoes were first pitched in a marketing boardroom they thought of how charming the noise-making shoes would be in an air-conditioned mall or a tiled airport waiting room. What I’m sure they didn’t consider was the potential selling power of built-in, bear-scaring squeakers. I bought them up and the kids honked around the yard all summer, scaring bears away with every step. We all made noise and lots of it.

We did other things too. We follow the recommendations of WildSafeBC and try to make our yard as un-inviting to a bear as possible. We reduced or eliminated bear attractants. We always keep our garbage in the garage and we take it to the transfer station frequently so the bears don’t get tempted to test the garage doors. Our dog is fed outside but his food and empty dish are kept inside. We stopped composting our fruit and veggie waste after the first spring here, when a mama bear brought her cubs by daily like a drive-through.

We had pigs for a few summers and electrified the fence so they wouldn’t push out. We stopped raising hogs when a bear somehow managed to get into the electrified pig pasture and was furious it couldn’t leave without a zap. We had that angry bear inside the electric fence with our hogs for a very long afternoon before disconnecting the power to the fence to let the bear climb out. We spent the next months worrying that the bear was still skulking around the undergrowth carrying a grizzly-sized grudge.

Two years ago a bear clawed up the chicken coop door and cleverly yanked a window right out to maraud all of our chickens in one night. This spring, the ducks were feasted on. So now we will have no more fowl. There’s also no more fish fertilizer in the greenhouse, and we shake all the apples off the trees. Even the songbirds have to fend for themselves because we’ve turned into real hardasses and no longer feed the birds because bears like birdseed too.

Trying the trap

We’ve been here 10 years and this last spring was the first time we’ve had to call the conservation officer (CO) for advice. A mama bear and two cubs were persistently sticking close to the yard and not scaring away. And a solitary male bear was always a half day behind them, nose to the ground, oblivious to our noises—from clapping to bear bangers.

This large male rounded the property and then the house in ever-constricting circles after the female bear. The COs responded to our call and cautiously walked the yard and assessed the property for bear attractants. I lamented our duck loss and described the bears that had been stalking around the property and the house. I described them as nonreactive bears, to the point that I wondered aloud if they could have been deaf. The CO explained that a male bear sometimes attempts to kill the cubs in an effort to mate with the female. Our noisy yard with annoying humans and a barking dog were a safe haven for the mama bear protecting her cubs.

The CO service is a public safety provider and they are there to help prevent and respond to wildlife/human conflicts, like we had with this bear courtship going on around our home. They are experienced and empathetic professionals. In this case, they put a bear trap in our backyard between the swing-set and the empty duck house. The trap was baited with smelly sardines and oats with a good measure of molasses. Then we waited. Nothing. The COs came a few days later and removed the empty trap.

One for the bear

A solitary bear showed up down by the greenhouse when I was weeding later that day. I looked at the bear and the bear looked at me. I clapped my hands and yelled, “Go Home, Bear!” The bear sauntered off slowly into the saskatoon bushes, stopped to look back at me and seemed to say with tiny bear eyes, “No, you go home.” So I did.

I went inside the house to discover that the family dog had eaten the sardines that had dropped out of the departing bear trap and was puking them all over our home. The bear clearly won this round.

I’ll be even more bear-smart next year and offer no ducks as midnight snacks. Hopefully the courting bears will just pass on by our home and carry on their lovers’ spat way out in the wild back forty.