There was an unexpected change in curriculum last week at Pembertons elementary school. Teachers and administrators at Signal Hill Elementary provided students with a lesson in bear safety.
The crash course in becoming "bear aware" came on the heels of several black bear sightings in Pemberton, in the downtown area, the neighbourhood known as Vinyl Village and immediately across from the elementary school grounds.
For several hours last Thursday afternoon, an adult bear remained treed on the ambulance dispatch centres property across from the school. That same day at least two other bears were sighted on trails in the area.
One of the primary reasons for the influx of bears in the area is the mature crabapple trees that line Portage Street. By September, the trees are heavy with ripe and decomposing fruit, providing a powerful attractant to black bears.
Concerned for the safety of her schools students, principal Pat McKenzie, was one of several people who called the Village of Pemberton to discuss the risk the fruit trees presented. As a result of these calls, five trees across from the school have been removed.
While village workers were removing fruit from the trees on the arterial road, they saw bears walking along in the ditches at the site, seemingly unalarmed by the humans.
According to Councillor Richard Doucet, all the trees will eventually be replaced.
"Part of the issue is that the trees were planted as part of a memorial," said Doucet. "As they die, we will be replacing them with non-fruit bearing trees."
As part of the "Village Treeway" project, the crabapples were planted in 1991 and 1992 to honour 90 local citizens. Plaques commemorating those individuals are on display at the Pemberton Community Centre.
To reduce the risk of bear-human conflict, the VOP is urging people to immediately pick the fruit from their home trees. Also, household garbage should be kept inside and put out the morning of pick-up.
Director of Development Services, David Allen, advises people to contact the Conservation hotline at 1-800-663-9453 to report bear sightings. However, Allen is quick to recognize that the lag time for a conservation officer getting to Pemberton from Squamish can be substantial. With this in mind, he says its essential people use their common sense when dealing with bears.
"If you look out in your backyard and see a bear, dont ever approach it. You can bang some pots and pans and try to discourage it audibly, but dont confront it," he said. "Depending on the individual animal and species, they need their own personal space. Enter that space and theyll think youre something they have to deal with."