Conservation officers are encouraging Merritt residents to report residential bear sightings, rather than try to handle the situation themselves, after a black bear ran towards a member of the public.

“When the public takes it upon themselves, they have no idea where the bear will run, so it needs to be handled by a professional,” said Conservation Officer Jeff Hanratty. “When I try and push a bear out of town, I have tools to help me if something goes wrong.”

Hanratty said people are sometimes hesitant to call conservation because they don’t want bears to die, but he said people need to let the trained officers make that decision.

In this recent case, the bear was eventually euthanized on May 28 behind Mountain Road on the Bench.

Hanratty said the same cinnamon-coloured male black bear was responsible for numerous complaints over the last two weeks and had been moving across town from Parker Drive to the Ramada Hotel and even down to the Fir Avenue and Walnut Avenue area.

On Monday morning Hanratty heard the report on an RCMP radio and found the bear in the bush behind Mountain Road. The bear tried to pass Hanratty and two police officers to get into town four times before Hanratty made the decision to euthanize him.

“It was between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. and he was determined to get into town, so that factored into my decision,” he said. “He had an easy escape route – he could have left at any time.”

Bears become conditioned to garbage and other food sources like fruit in the fall, and it trains them to overcome their fear of people, said Hanratty.

Conservation officers do have the option to relocate bears, but Hanratty said in his experience, relocation has a low success rate.

“It is a tool that we sometimes use,” he said. “None of us like killing bears, it’s just not part of our job that anyone likes doing.”

While the one bear has kept conservation officers busy, Hanratty said it’s too early to say whether it will be a busy bear year or not.

“Typically the busy bear season is in the fall when fruit is on the ground,” he said, adding that 2011 was one of the quietest seasons in his career.

Besides Bear Aware education through the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, Merritt’s Water Resource Advisory Committee summer students will be raising awareness in the community about reducing bear attractants.

Mayor Susan Roline said the students will be pointing out possible attractants to residents such as garbage and fruit later in the season.

“We’re hoping they can connect through youth groups like Smart Step to help residents pick their fruit,” she said, adding that the city is discussing how to make the new city issued garbage bins more secure. “We hate having to keep killing the bears – they’ve been attracted to an easy food source.”

Residents can reduce attractants by keeping garbage indoors until collection day and picking ripe fruit in the fall. To report a bear sighting in your neighbourhood or on your property, call conservation at 1-877-952-7277.