When faced last month with a charging black bear in the woods near Castlegar, B.C., logger Jesse Mengler had to act fast. He grabbed a baseball-sized rock from the ground and struck the bear right between the eyes with it, knocking it out. Mengler, a baseball pitcher in his youth, is not the only one to meet a hungry bear in B.C. this year. The number of run-ins between man and bears are way up, according to statistics from the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. At the current rate, 20,000 bear complaints are expected this year in the province. Most years, the annual total is closer to 16,000. And in Castlegar, a city about 600 km east of Vancouver, 60 bears have already been destroyed this year. Only 15 were killed in all of 2009.
Kendra Wiberg, the coordinator for Bear Aware B.C., says that an intense forest-fire season may be responsible for the spike in encounters. In 2003, bear-human interactions were as much as 20 times greater than the year before in the cities and towns where Bear Aware tracked complaints, she says. That also happened to be the worst year for forest fires in a decade—more than 265,000 hectares of forests were destroyed. (This year, fires have scorched more than 300,000 hectares worth of forest in B.C.) “A lot of their food was burned up, so they go looking in cities or towns,” says Wiberg.
And things may be worse this month. Typically, September is when bears go on a feeding frenzy, eating 20-plus hours a day, in preparation for winter. British Columbians may want to work on their aim.