Some parents in Fort McMurray are scared to let their kids play outside as bears have been spotted wandering throughout the Abasand neighbourhood.
Mitzy Bridges is one of those parents.
She has lived in Fort McMurray her whole life, and she’s never seen this many bears in town.
“I feel like I’m in the mountains backpacking,” said Bridges. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen it in my whole life.”
She gives her kids, ages 5 and 8, a bear whistle when they play outside.
A few weeks ago, her husband came face-to-face with one.
“[The bear] was picking in the garbage, he came up and stood right up on his hind legs and snarled at him,” said Bridges.
The Bridges family is not alone.
Tina Whitford, a mother of four, lives in Abasand.
She said Fish and Wildlife keeps coming to take bears away, but there just seem to be more coming back.
“I’m scared,” said Whitford.
“I’ve always been afraid of bears and now they’re all around here.”
She said her fear is heightened because she has four children.
“We can’t protect ourselves from a bear.”
Black bear sightings
A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said there hasn’t been an increase in black bear sightings this year in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. So far this summer, officials have euthanized 18 bears and relocated 32 others. A report from the agency gives a variety of reasons for destroying the animals, ranging from being overly comfortable with humans to aggressive behaviour.
In total, there have been 164 occurrences with 250 bears in Wood Buffalo in 2019, which the spokesperson says is average.
Several bears were spotted across Alberta last week. A woman near Whitecourt discovered three grizzlies in her backyard and a black bear cub wandered into a Slave Lake barbershop.
The incidents aren’t necessarily a sign bear populations are increasing, according to one bear expert.
Kim Titchener, founder of Bear Safety and More, said it may be that there are more eyes out there looking for them.
“This is what it’s like to live in bear country.”
She said it’s important for people not to leave out attractants like garbage and bird feeders.
“It’s the bears that lose, not the people for the most part. We end up seeing a lot of bears being relocated, being shot.”
Titchener said people in Abasand may be seeing more bears in their neighbourhood because of the 2016 wildfire that burned the surrounding forest.
She said when trees are cleared, whether from a fire or clear-cutting, it leaves room for berries, dandelions and clover to grow.
“It actually does help to create really great bear habitat,” she said.
“If there’s more and more berries, there’s going to be more bears.”