Community Classroom

Why you should secure your garbage and recycling

Blue garbage bins and green recycling bins line the left side of a Nanaimo street.

Resource management officer students work with city on bear attractants

Unsecured garbage and recycling can attract bears to residential neighbourhoods, leading to potential wildlife-human conflicts. 

If wildlife such as bears are continually rewarded with food, they become food-conditioned and human-habituated. This can lead to a loss of fear of humans. Bears or other wildlife may have to be euthanized because they pose a danger to people or are in poor health due to eating unnatural foods.

VIU’s Resource Management Officer Technology (RMOT) diploma program partnered with the City of Nanaimo to determine what kinds and how many wildlife attractants there are in Nanaimo neighbourhoods. Students in the Human-Wildlife Conflicts (RMOT 297) course investigated what types of attractants such as garbage, compost and recycling were unsecured and how many households have an option, such as a garage or other areas, to store their attractants until pick-up day.

Below, Owen Hargrove, an RMOT Professor, discusses the community research project and solutions to the problem.

Headshot of Owen Hargrove.

Owen Hargrove, RMOT Professor.

How did the partnership come about?

In the Resource Management Officer Technology program, we frequently like to work with partners in natural resource agencies to find ways to engage our students in real-world projects. This partnership originally came about through conversations with former students who are now working for the BC Conservation Officer Service. They had noticed a significant problem with wildlife attractants that resulted in bears having to be euthanized in and around the City of Nanaimo. We were invited to be part of a working group with the city, the Regional District of Nanaimo, the Conservation Officer Service and WildSafeBC. We could help by collecting data on residential attractants to help better understand the scope of the problem and we saw this as an opportunity to make this a win-win project where we get students out collecting data in the field along with helping the community.

What are the solutions to help keep bears away?

The best solution for keeping bears away is to remove attractants or to properly secure them. Bears may be able to smell garbage locked in a garage or enclosure. Even though the smell might bring them into neighbourhoods, if they don’t get a reward in the form of food they won’t return. One solution is locking up your garbage, recycling and compost so they can’t get into it, in line with recommendations from WildSafeBC.

What are the consequences if this kind of behaviour continues, and bears become food and human-conditioned?

Bears are constantly seeking calories and the problem comes when they find an unnatural food source and they’re rewarded with food, especially high-calorie human food or human garbage that offers more calories than they might get from natural food sources. This can lead them to continually come back to where they found the attractant and if they are continually rewarded, we get bears that become food-conditioned. Too much time around humans with no adverse consequences can lead to a loss of fear of humans and habituation, which increases the possibility of conflict with people and unhealthy bears who have become reliant on non-natural foods. Food-conditioned, human-habituated bears often must be euthanized because of the danger they pose to people.

How were students involved and what skills did they gain?

Through the human-wildlife conflict course, we talk about several different aspects of managing human interactions with wildlife and especially wildlife attractants. We highlighted different types of wildlife attractants for the students, and students had the opportunity to see firsthand what attractants might exist in their own neighbourhoods, as well as experience that human-wildlife conflict happens in urban settings as well as the backcountry. It was also an opportunity to collect data in a real-world setting that would contribute to solving a local issue. Students also saw the gap that sometimes exists between laws and social expectations and norms. For those students considering going into careers in the conservation service, they also get an idea of the types of issues they may deal with. 

What do community partners gain from partnering on a research project like this with VIU?

When working with community partners, we can gather data to help provide context for a perceived problem. We can look at a problem objectively and provide facts and data with an eye on defining the scope of the problem. In this case, we used a class of 25 students to gather a large amount of data (more than 10,000 houses visually surveyed from the sidewalk) in a short period of time (five weeks). This data helps the agencies involved to make informed decisions about how to approach this issue. 



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