Some people feel the Conservation Officers Service is bearing down on them.
The COs contend they have had 800 bear complaints so far this year in this city and they are using available laws to protect both the public and the wildlife.
One neighbourhood where COs are keying on residents is the area of Webber Crescent and Rush Place just south of CN Centre, with the university at the top of the hill and a residential area at the bottom. Bears and other bush creatures are frequently around.
Two of those residents, Joel Thompson and Karl Nielsen, have had encounters with conservation officers due the active garbage picking at least one bear is doing. Thompson received a fine for not securing his garbage (his mail was found cluttering the woods nearby, where a bear had dragged it) and Nielsen's household was about to get one until the CO was shown the damage caused by the bear ripping the door off the shed where the garbage was kept.
"I pick the fruit off our apple tree, I keep the garbage locked up, I am diligent," said Nielsen. "Am I supposed to take the garbage away every day or something? Are they going to pay the bill to build a cement bunker for it?"
It is the responsibility of the people producing the garbage to dispose of their garbage in a way that won't attract bears, said CO Sgt. Rory Smith. We are in the bears' world, not the other way around.
"The solutions aren't always convenient or cheap," said Smith. "This is about individual ownership of your garbage and what you put out there. There is a greater good, if you want to sum it up quick. The bottom line is, the reason we have undertaken enforcement of provisions of the Wildlife Act and city bylaws is due to some pretty horrific things that have happened in incidents in B.C."
Thompson wishes only that warnings be issued first. He claimed to never have been given a chance to make amends. He cleaned up the messes caused by the bear, including neighbours' trash mixed in with his, but he didn't know about the stuff in the bush and would have happily complied with a cleanup directive.
"The bear has climbed our wood gate, it has come up onto our front step, it has crunched in the lid of the garbage can, it has basically invalidated us having a garbage can at all," said Thompson. "We have it stored in a little shed, it's the only place left, but it won't stop a bear if it really wants to get in."
Homeowners can take several measures to add deterrents. Strapping shut the lid of the garbage can was one recommendation from the CO service, but using wide web-belt tie-downs not bungie cords that a bear can easily claw or bite through. There are bear-proof garbage cans available.
One local household, Garnet Fraser and Sara Crofts, went so far as to put an electric fence around their seven apple trees. Nonetheless, COs issued them a warning when a sow with cubs became habituated to their neighbourhood at the south end of Ospika Boulevard.
Fraser was upset at the terms used on the ticket they were issued. Although it had "warning" hand-written across it, it also had a handwritten note from the attending CO to "remove apples from tree in yard" by a certain day and time. Fraser and Crofts had to then decide between stripping their trees of unripe apples they intended to use for their own sustenance, or deliberately invite a fine.
"It is not an order to do anything, it is just a warning with something to think about to prevent future conflict with the bear. It is not something that has to be done or receive a fine," Smith clarified.
"To me, they are using their warning system even when people are being diligent, and doing the best they can," said Fraser. "If, after all we have done to keep bears away from our fruit, who else stands a chance? They are essentially saying people aren't allowed to grow fruit in Prince George. I have a lot of respect for the COs; I admire the COs for what they do, but this is an abuse of process."
Smith clarified that indeed orders and/or fines might be issued that are inconvenient or potentially costly, but only to those where bears are a current and specific danger. People can grow fruit all they like, and as long as they are conscientious about it, and no bears are attracted to them, the COs will have no cause to take action. But even if you are diligent and a bear decides to focus on your neighbourhood, orders may be issued.
"I haven't called to complain about the bears when they do get into things in our neighbourhood, just because I don't want to see them destroyed. I'm sure every bear they have to kill hurts their soul a little," Nielsen said.
"Their intention is right, you can't have bears get used to garbage or fruit and then go after people when they can't get that, but you have to treat people fairly too," said Thompson.
"We can shoot bears till the cows come home and it won't eliminate bear conflict," Smith said. "You have to take preventative steps and eliminate the source of the conflict, not the bear. It is not the goal of the ministry or the Conservation Officer service to kill bears, and it is the expectation of the public as well. They expect better. It is our job to stay the course for public safety."