The number of bears scouring residential neighbourhoods for food in the Cowichan Valley is increasing and the Cowichan Valley Regional District is urging people to keep their garbage totes inside until the morning they are collected.

The CVRD warns there is an increasing number of conflicts between bears and people. It says bears are attracted to curbside garbage, recycling and organic materials and are repeatedly seeking out these food sources in residential areas.

Scott Norris of the BC Conservation Officer Service says there are plenty of bears around.

“Right now in the Cowichan Valley and all over Southern Vancouver Island we’re getting an unbelievable number of calls about bears, primarily accessing peoples’ garbage.”

Norris says people need to lock up their garbage, “It keeps our neighbourhood safe, and it keeps our bears safe, and it keeps our bears wild.”

CVRD Bylaw No. 1958 prohibits curbside totes from being put out before 5 am on the day of collection. Residents who put their garbage and recycling earlier will have warning stickers placed on their totes. The regional district says that and repeat offenders will be issued fines of up to $230 by bylaw staff and BC Conservation Officers.

Norris says conservation officers have been working with local municipalities for several years to discourage people from putting out garbage the night before.

“The Conservation Officer Service has been working with the Cowichan Valley Regional District over the last number of years, we’ve got a WildSafe coordinator here in conjuction with North Cowichan.”

He says the coordinator goes out into neighbourhoods to place stickers on garbage totes to educate the public about what attracts wildlife and how to keep bears safe and wild.

The regional district acknowledges that some residents may not mind having a bear visit their yard, but says it can be dangerous for neighbouring children and pets.

The CVRD also says bears that repeatedly seek food in residential areas may have to be destroyed because once a bear establishes its territory, relocating it is rarely successful.

Bears may also eat plastic and similar inedible items from curbside bins, which can lead to a prolonged and painful death.

The regional district says the simplest way to reduce these conflicts is to keep curbside totes securely stored and off the street until the morning of collection.