After a deep winter’s sleep, bears are coming out of hibernation, albeit a little earlier than normal.

People living in a Port Coquitlam neighbourhood have already seen black bears earlier in the month.

“I was just walking down the street here and the bear growled at me and we met eyes,” said Shawn Farrell. “I was so surprised to see it so close to me.”

He lives near the Traboulay Poco Trail, which runs parallel to the Coquitlam River. Black bears are known to frequent the area and feast on fish during the salmon run.

Conservation officers said a drop in the salmon return may be contributing to the bears waking up earlier.

“They’re starting to come out a little bit early, likely because of the temperature, likely because of factors of going into the den without a lot of food sources,” explained Sgt. Todd Hunter.

Hunter said the Tri-Cities have the highest number of black bear sightings in the entire province.

According to the Wildlife Alert Reporting Program, there have been at least five black bear sightings reported in the area in March.

“We’ve had an increase in call volumes for bear and coyote sightings,” said Sgt. Hunter.

He said this time of year is also when coyotes give birth to pups.

“Coyotes, I do see on a regular basis by our apartment but that’s what happens when wildlife gets pushed into our city,” said resident Madeline Moore.

Sgt. Hunter said the Tri-Cities have a number of green belts and river drainages where wildlife likes to travel; it’s also where developers like to build housing.

“It’s great to expect that we live in these areas and we can see wildlife. It’s just how we live with them and how we manage ourselves,” he said.

How to reduce conflict with wildlife  

The first step in preventing encounters with wildlife is to remove any attractants and securely lock up your garbage, Sgt. Hunter said.

He said rodents will go through the trash and those rodents will attract animals up the food chain. 

“You will get rodents coming around; you’ll get small game coming around; you’ll get predators coming around, like coyotes and even cougars.”

When dealing with potentially dangerous animals like cougars, WildSafeBC said it is important to act assertive.

"You want to look really big: open up your jacket, have your hands up in the air, look the cougar in the eye and let him know you're not easy prey," said coordinator Vanessa Isnardy.

She suggests people carry bear spray with them.

"It's like a seat belt, you may never need to use it but you will be glad you had it."

When people are walking on trails with their dogs, it’s important to keep the pets on a leash, Sgt. Hunter said.

He warns it is also important to keep pets inside at home.

Those who are caught leaving attractants, such as garbage out in the open, could be fined. Tickets range from $230 to $570.