PRINCE ALBERT -- The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment has had an increase in calls related to bear sighting, inquires and complaints in 2020 compared to previous years.

Insp. Brett Diemert with Conservation Officer Service says this time of year, bears are very active and spend about 20 hours a day feeding up for winter hibernation.

He says people need to give bears space when they encounter them. Going back the way you came or making a far circle around the bear if possible is one of his tips. He encourages people to learn bear safety.

“If the bear continues to come towards you, do something that will distract it. Drop a hat, a jacket something like that, something that will buy some time and give you some time to get out of the area,” said Diemert.

He says making noise as you hike or work alerts animals to the presence of humans and gives them the chance to leave the area, however that doesn’t always keep people from crossing paths with large mammals.

As a surveyor, hunter, hiker and wildlife photographer, Rod Young has had numerous encounters with black bears. He says people need to respect the large predators and purge Hollywood images of bears being playful or cute and cuddly. He says not to startle the bear and to back away slowly.

“Bears are actually quite dangerous and the only thing they have on their mind is food,” said Young. “They can really wreak havoc on a campsite and industry personnel that work in the forest.”

He recalls a time when a bear was stalking the survey crew he worked with. It ate the chainsaw oil and gasoline they had on the cutline. They yelled at the bear thinking it would scare it away and instead the bear charged at them.

He says he always “gives ground” to bears and likes to be more than 100 yards away from them.

“Black bears are part of nature. They’ve got as much right in the forest as anybody but food is food to them. And when people leave garbage out it draws them in,” said Young.

Using habitat population models and hunter harvest statistics the team lead for the wildlife biologist unit of the environment ministry estimates there are 43,000 bears in the province. Team lead Katherine Conkin says the increase in bear sightings may be from more people spending time outdoors enjoying nature.

“The berry production this year was delayed. So bears may have been coming into areas for food sources that more people where at home and out recreating in the province with COVID,” said Conkin.

Changes to the 2020/2021 hunting regulations allow Saskatchewan residents to purchase to two hunting licences in the farmland and forest fringe zones, 17, 30, 32–50 and 52–55.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a very healthy bear populations and it was determined in these sort of parkland areas that the population could support two tags per hunter in those zones,” said Conkin.