PORT COQUITLAM -- The City of Port Coquitlam is considering hiking its garbage fines in an effort to reduce the number of bear encounters in its jurisdiction.

A proposed bylaw would penalize homeowners who fail to secure their garbage or green waste bins properly, increasing the current fine of $150 to $500.

The proposal is one of several steps being taken by city council to make the community more bear aware.

“If you do not secure your garbage, you are going to get a bear killed, that’s just the reality of it,” said city Coun. Steve Darling, who is championing the bylaw.

Port Coquitlam has struggled with wildlife encounters for years. Last November, four cubs and two mother bears were killed by conservation officers near Fox Park, sparking outrage in the community.

“I feel sorry for the poor bears. I know that when they are angry they are bad, but they’re part of the community,” said David Monge, who lives near the park.

There have also been a number of highly contested euthanizations in neighbouring Port Moody and Coquitlam.

Those two municipalities recently raised their garbage fines to $500 as well.

Advocates say consistent bylaws across all three of the Tri-Cities will make a big difference.

”Bears don’t have any political boundaries, so you have a bear wandering through Coquitlam. It’s probably the same bear that’s wandering through Port Moody,” said Carla Parr-Pearson, an administrator for the "Port Moody Tri-Cities Bear Aware!" Facebook group.

Port Coquitlam has been providing locks for waste bins, but they weren’t available in small sizes, leaving more than 10,000 small bins in the city exposed. Locks for those bins are now being introduced for free as well.

That project, combined with information bulletins being sent out to residents, is expected to cost more than $350,000.

“It’s a small price to pay, I think, to try and protect bears,” said Darling.

Many of those who live in neighbours that the animals frequent agree.

”I think that’s good," said Monge. "With that, people have to care a little more."

The city also plans to conduct a bear hazard assessment in the coming months. That report will identify what improvements need to be made in order for the community get its Bear Smart Certification.

Coquitlam is currently certified and Port Moody is working toward certification as well.

“This will strengthen the Tri-Cities, having a blended bylaw, meaning it’s consistent,” said Parr-Pearson.

Port Coquitlam is also increasing its organics pickup service to every week, year-round, to reduce odours that attract wildlife.

According to BC Conservation Officer Service’s website, officers killed 577 black bears in 2019.

“I would like to see zero deaths, but if we can reduce the number of bears that were destroyed last year, that would be a really great start,” said Parr-Pearson.

The bylaw will go back in front of Port Coquitlam city council Tuesday night.