CBC: How Ottawa residents are trying to coexist with urban wildlife

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By Emma Weller, CBC

April 1, 2024

Dan Brunton was shocked when he came face-to-face with a bear at his home a few years ago near Mud Lake. 

He was curious when he heard rustling in his garbage can, presuming it was a raccoon. As he walked up to scare it away, the head of a roughly 90-kilogram black bear popped out of his garbage. 

"We get young bears coming into the city fairly regularly, but this adult was a real surprise," said Brunton, a retired ecological consultant. 

These kinds of encounters may be more common this year.

Earlier this month, the province issued a warning that bears might be coming out of hibernation early this spring due to warmer temperatures. 

And with a lack of natural food sources available this time of the year, they'll be on the hunt for other meals.

"The problem there is that if [an animal] doesn't go away and there's some interaction with people, which is almost always the people's fault … the animal dies," Brunton said.

"That's the most common outcome of these things."

In his scenario, authorities safely got the bear back into its habitat, Brunton said — but that's not always the case.

City has responsibility, says councillor

Weaved throughout Ottawa's neighbourhoods, the Greenbelt and the Ottawa River have created homes for urban wildlife, right next to some people's backyards.

While residents reap the benefits of the city's green space and ecosystems, they also at times struggle to coexist with that wildlife.

Given Ottawa's amount of greenspace, the city has a greater responsibility when it comes to managing the city's relationship with urban wildlife, said College ward Coun. Laine Johnson. 

Last year, a bear wandered into the Bridlewood neighbourhood looking for food after coming out of its hibernation and was killed by Ottawa police. 

"We were all deeply disappointed," Johnson said. "If we had been able to respond in a different way, I think we could have saved that bear. And unfortunately, that was not the case."

Bears and other animals often saunter into nearby neighbourhoods in search of food, with garbage, bird feeders and vegetable gardens all serving as tempting options.

People who live around areas where urban wildlife thrive need to be educated on how to respond appropriately when animals roam onto their streets, Johnson said. 

Johnson said her office will be releasing a wildlife strategy plan in September. She's also urged the City of Ottawa to invest more money to help harmonize the relationship between humans and wildlife. 

Another issue that contributes to wildlife around Mud Lake and other densely populated parts of the city is that people tend to feed them, said Chris Myles, a conservation officer with the National Capital Commission. 

In his experience, Myles said, when there are conflicts between humans and wild animals, that's almost always what they're about.

"They come to look at us as food sources. So rather than scuttle off, when they see somebody coming up the trail, they may start to associate you with food."

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