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Construction firms learn to get ‘Bear Smart’

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Residents of a Canadian city debated whether police correctly handled a call reporting that a bear was shot and killed in April.

Residents of a Canadian city debated whether police correctly handled a call reporting that a bear was shot and killed in April.

Police tried to contact the Ministry of Natural Resources, but no staff in the area were trained to handle bears, which haven’t been seen here in more than 40 years.

After all, this was London, Ont. — not an alpine town in British Columbia.

Expect more such interaction between bears and humans in coming years, said Sylvia Dolson, executive director of Canada’s Get Bear Smart Society.

“Humans are building on bear habitats, bear populations are increasing and bears are increasing their foraging range, appearing in places they haven’t been seen for decades,” she said.

“Part of green building involves respecting local wildlife.”

Dolson has conducted seminars for construction companies across North America, educating participants on how to deal with, and safely discourage, bears looking for food.

“Often, construction sites are located in areas closer to bear habitats, with the lunches of construction workers tossed into bins with the rest of the construction debris,” she said.

Dolson described a 2003 incident in which a bear climbed into a partially completed Four Seasons Hotel in Whistler, BC.

“It was attracted to the lunches and food scraps left around the site,” she said.

“The bear made its way to the third floor before conservation officers arrived. They tried to shoo the bear out of the building, but the bear only did what it would do in the wild — climb higher for safety.”

The bear was eventually shot on the sixth floor, when it approached a conservation officer in the building’s hallway.

After the incident, the project’s general contractor, PCL Constructors Canada Inc., made a sizable donation to the Get Bear Smart Society to help educate construction companies in bear awareness.

“Construction companies have been very supportive,” noted Dolson, who added that Montreal-based property management and development company Ivanhoe Cambridge has also financially supported the association’s efforts.

Bear control on construction sites begins with eliminating the source of a bear’s interest — food or smells associated with it.

“If they’re successful at finding food once, they’ll continue to return to that site over and over” she said.

Dolson said that bears will often return to completed construction projects years afterward because they were once rewarded by site workers’ leftovers.

“Bears are attracted to worksites by food, drinks, garbage, food wrappers, and empty drink containers,” said Dolson.

“Workers need to be advised that lunch boxes, coolers and cars are not bear-proof. Bears have been known to rip off the doors and windows of vehicles to access even a candy wrapper, used coffee cup or banana peel. Store all food inside a bear-resistant food container, bear-proof locker or a locking, closed metal container.”

Food waste should also be kept in a bin separate from construction debris and moved off site as quickly as possible.

Dolson notes that bears are also attracted to the smell of petroleum products.

“The bears will lick up lubricants and are particularly attracted to cooking oil that some machines now accept as fuel,” she explained.

All petroleum products should be kept in fireproof metal storage lockers, when not in immediate use, and spills should be cleaned up as soon as possible.

Dolson noted that lack of knowledge about bears and other wildlife often isn’t the fault of workers.

“If you’re from the city and suddenly find yourself in bear country working on a construction site, how will you know?” she asked.

In seminars, Dolson instructs construction companies to appoint one person, usually a health and safety officer or site supervisor, to be the designated bear expert.

“We understand that you just can’t shut down a construction sites, so we train that person on how to deter the bear and help to move it off the site” she said.

“Bears will often leave if they hear loud noises accompanied by someone who treats them in a dominant and assertive manner, making eye contact. As a last resort, pepper spray often works to make them leave.”

Dolson said that the larger the expected food reward, the more likely the bear will be to stand its ground.

She noted that developers can also make bear smart decisions about landscaping, that include avoiding fruiting trees such as crab apple or mountain ash.

“In late fall when all of the other berries have been depleted and their metabolism is kicked up, any food will attract bears,” said Dolson. “Eliminate the food source and they’ll find they have better places to go.”

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