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Dog owners warned to keep pets leashed after black bear sighting

Signs warning of a bear were posted throughout McDonald Beach Park yesterday. - Matthew Hoekstra photo
Signs warning of a bear were posted throughout McDonald Beach Park yesterday.
— image credit: Matthew Hoekstra photo

Dog owners are being warned to keep their pets leashed at McDonald Beach Park after multiple sightings of a black bear this week.

"Our recommendation to dog owners anywhere in the province where there is bears is to walk their dogs on leash," said David Cox, a conservation officer with the B.C. Ministry of Environment. "Choose another area for the time being until we address the situation."

An off-leash dog is likely to chase a bear, which might flee at first, but could later attack the dog or chase it back to its owner. Cox said a leashed dog is more likely to scare the bear away by its barking.

McDonald Beach Park, located on the northern edge of Sea Island, is a popular off-leash dog park. A black bear was spotted multiple times at the park earlier this week.

Cox is asking anyone who spots the bear to report it by calling the conservation officer hotline at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277)—or #7277 on a cell—to give officers clues of the animal's location and habits.

"It's a bear that's in an area that will probably have a challenge getting out of on its own means," he said. "We will probably look at some sort of means of relocating him prior to him becoming a conflict bear."

If left alone, the bear could become conditioned to food sources on Sea Island or habituated to people's presence. But officers have been busy responding to bear complaints this summer.

A cold spring is believed to have caused a weak alpine berry crop, driving some bears to urban areas in search of food.

The Sea Island bear could have arrived by travelling a green corridor or hitching a ride on a log boom and jumping off near McDonald Beach, but it so far isn't a public safety concern.

Nonetheless, Cox advises Sea Island residents to secure their garbage, and make loud noises if they encounter the animal.

Sara Dubois, manager of wildlife services for the B.C. SPCA, called the bear sighting "very unusual," but said bears are "pretty desperate for food" and aren't afraid of travelling long distances to get it.

"It's where the food is. You're going to have some males that are maybe a couple years old who are now on their own, who are daring and not very experienced," she said. "These are the months they need to pack on the pounds. However they can do that, they're attempting to."

Dubois noted the high number of human encounters with bears this summer, but said it's "very rare that someone is approached or even attacked." If the bear is spotted, she advises people to keep their distance and not to feed it.

Said Dubois: "Hopefully this bear will figure out this is not the best place for him and move on."

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