Greenstone contends with 'nuisance bears'

Residents across the Municipality of Greenstone have been cautioned about a recent influx in bear sightings, specifically linked to the amount of refuse left out in open areas.

Members of the municipal council met with the local Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry district supervisor and the ministry's Bear Wise technician to produce a report about these recent “nuisance bears.”

Chief administrative officer Mark Wright was in attendance at Greenstone’s council meeting last week to deliver a verbal report on the ministry's recommendations.

“Bears, as we know, are an issue every year, this time of year. This year, there seems to be an increase in issues with bears — reports of bears […] they are searching out the easiest food source they can find which, other than berries, turns out to be garbage,” Wright said.

“There are a number of responsibilities first if someone does spot a bear. We absolutely do recommend that they contact Bear Wise […] there are multiple purposes for this — but especially including [that] they will then track where the reports are and should they find that there are a significant number of reports from a specific area, they, and we, in partnership can start to come up with area-specific strategies.”

One such strategy involved the director of protective and planning services going door-to-door with local ministry officers to educate residents in affected areas where the most sightings were recorded and advising them about preventative measures.

“There are a number of things recommended for people to do: lock your garbage away, clean out your garbage bins after every garbage day, make sure things like your barbecues are clean because that’s what the bears are looking for.

Wright also made sure to note that “if a bear is expressing aggressive or threatening behaviour, contact the OPP. They are equipped and trained to address the bear.”

“But, ultimately, that is the last line of action.”

While most of the councillors seemed to agree with the assessment made in the CAO’s report and were satisfied with the actions taken by the director of protective and planning services and the ministry, others were less persuaded.

Coun. Eric Pietsch suggested that the current approach is “more reactive,” while a “more proactive” approach might better benefit the community.

Adding to Pietsch’s point, Coun. Alan Ouellet illustrated how intensely these bears are affecting the community.

“This one hits close to home. And what I mean by that is they’re in my backyard every night. […] Unfortunately, I find that it’s a situation where all three parties [the ministry, the municipality, and the OPP] are hiding behind policy. The risk to families, property, [and] children, I feel isn’t being taken serious enough. The problem is serious,” Ouellet said, pointing out a lack of communication between all parties involved in prevention measures.

“It’s great to have policies in place, it’s great that they brought a trap out, but the public was not informed. I think, if and when traps are being deployed — which I hope happens more often this time of year — I feel that it should be a very big, open communication to the community of what the goings-on are, what’s expected of the people, to stay away from those areas because of the risk involved. Communication is key.”

“Moving forward, I think we have to find ways to do better. On our part [and] as residents as well. We all have to do our part but we all have to do better.”

Wright countered that although the statement that they are “hiding behind policy and don’t take it seriously” is incorrect, Ouellet was on-point about everyone in the community bearing some responsibility. Wright went on to note that perhaps adding an amendment to an upcoming bylaw regarding property standards would act as a sufficient deterrent but also observed that by-law enforcement is a timely process and that the bear season is generally over by the time fines would be assessed and possibly issued.

“We have put out communications, we will continue to put out communications. And, this is a recurring issue; it happens every year, it’s not a surprise.”

Ouellet, in a supplemental response, was quick to point out that while it is true that this is a recurring issue, the current number of sightings reported lends the situation a sense of “urgency.”

“When it's 20 or 30 people reporting it through Bear Wise, yes that carries some weight,” he said.

“Shed doors are being ripped off [when] people are doing the right thing and putting their garbage away. These animals are strong and they will make their way in and it has happened this year, in this community. When that starts to happen, I believe that the onus falls on us to reach out for that extra support.”

Ouellet concluded by agreeing that at least having one trap set is a step in the right direction but it simply isn’t enough and more “diligence” is needed to keep the community safe and informed.

Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,