As fortunate as we are to have these big, beautiful, powerful animals, their ability to become a pest is legendary. The daunting task of managing these creatures is the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources, but as Nova Scotians we all have a significant responsibility and a role to play.
Our actions, as a society, have significant impact on the natural world and creatures that dwell within it. That is why the responsibility falls on us all because we, as a civilized population, have the means to make change with how we choose to live with nature, specifically black bears in the spring and fall sessions. While garbage and green bin collections have been a good step forward for us regarding health and public sanitation, it has had some adverse affect on the wildlife populations and changed how we must manage these animals. Unfortunately, this is a new fact of life, because of this we must all be diligent in how we choose to do our part regarding waste management and ensure we are meticulous in doing what is right, not what is easy.
A black bear’s life revolves around its ability to pick and follow scent in hope of finding a meal. Black bears are called omnivores, meaning they will eat almost anything from road kill to berries and apples and leaves, plant growth, garbage and green bin material. When, how or what they choose to eat revolves around a simple ideology of calorie intake versus calorie expenditure.
Simply put, if the animals expend less calories to find easily accessible meals in an urban setting, they are less likely to expend more energy to find food in the woods. The calories saved by finding easy food in urban locations are stored and used at a later point when food becomes more scarce.
Black bears are particularly pesky in the spring because they are using the very last of their fat reserves that got them through the winter period and once they emerge, they have reached a point of physical starvation. The fact that black bears are well below their optimal functional weight in spring means they are going to feed on anything and everything available while burning the least possible number calories. This trend will continue until their natural food sources like apples and berries are in bloom. In the fall, it is just the opposite, they are attempting to add extra calories to their diet to see them through the approaching winter months even though many of their natural sources are still available, and many times garbage and green bins are on the menu. Once a bear has located an easy food source, it will revisit that location until the food no longer remains. These are contributing factors as to why easy calories are such a looming factor in nuisance bear activity and how simply we can do our part to keep wildlife wild.
The spectacle of seeing the bear trap set conjures images of bloodthirsty wildlife in search of their next victim, when this could not be further from the truth. The setting of this equipment is one of the last possible options that we as wildlife managers want to use because of the possible negative effects. Often, the trap can have the opposite outcome by drawing in other bears in the area. If the situation has progressed to the point that the trap needs to be used, the common response is always “just take him to the woods and let him go, but there is no need to hurt him.” The problem with this is we live in a province with a very small land base and there are very few true “wild” spaces left. For us to release a problem animal back into the woods, the chances are great that that same bear is going to become an issue for someone else simply because that animal has been habituated to garbage and will now seek out its primary food source. Personal waste management has changed the physiology of our wildlife, a fact now being passed on to new generations of nuisance animals.
Long story short, if a bear is continuing to frequent your property, he is there for a reason – easy, accessible resources. Not every situation is cut and dry regarding wildlife because they are just that – wild. As fortunate as we are to live in a place with an abundance of natural resources in Nova Scotia, the responsibility falls on us to do our part to reduce wildlife and human interaction. When these two parties collide, many times it does not work out to the benefit of the animals because of the very real possibility of public safety concerns. For more information, visit the Department or Natural Resources website at https://novascotia.ca/natr/wildlife/nuisance/bears.asap
Submitted by Dave Steeves, district technician of forest resources for the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.