It’s not unusual to see bears along the South Klondike Highway in Yukon, nor is it unusual to see a car, or two, or three, pulled off on the shoulder, taking pictures of those bears.
Occasionally, people are even tossing them snacks.
That has to stop, according to a number of local organizations and groups that have teamed up on a new initiative. They’ll be putting up road signs and handing out pamphlets this summer, urging people to “respect our bears.”
“This is such a heavy tourist corridor in the summer, and people really love to see bears,” said Heather Ashthorn of Wildwise Yukon, a local non-profit that’s involved in the campaign.
“We have heard from some of our other outreach initiatives over the last couple of summers… that there is a problem with the human-bear system in this area, and a lot of it is due to food conditioning,” she said.
“Probably a lot of that behaviour comes from innocence and ignorance, but is quite destructive along the way.”
Sandwiches and bananas
Jeff Piwek, a B.C. conservation officer, has seen all kinds of troublesome behaviour. Part of the South Klondike Highway runs through B.C., and the province has signed on to the new initiative.
“Sometimes the bears… might go away from a vehicle. So people are taking it upon themselves to try and get those bears closer, and usually that’s enticing them with a sandwich or a piece of fruit or other foods,” he said.
“What I’ve seen is bears on the side of the road eating discarded sandwiches and cut up bananas — all these non-natural foods.”
Yukon conservation officer Ken Knutson agrees it’s become a big and worrisome problem. When people stop to feed or photograph bears, the animals “get used to you, and it often can lead to conflict,” he said.
Knutson says he just saw a video posted online by someone who had tossed an apple to a Yukon bear. The bear is seen, at close range, happily munching on the red delicious.
“We don’t know where that happened, but as soon as that starts to happen that bear associates people with food and starts to approach them — and that’s when the situation can become dangerous.”
‘More than your typical bear education’
The Carcross Tagish First Nation [CTFN] is also involved in the new initiative. Pamphlets advise visitors that they are on the First Nation’s traditional territory and “we value the bears that live here.”
Besides the pamphlets, the First Nation will also be doing outreach programs with visitors and tourists, to help them understand that bears…