For over two months, we have been working on a bear attractant series, the goal of which was to present information in an unbiased way and to show that there are many ways in which a community can reduce bear-human conflict.
From the information we gathered, almost all communities were in agreement that the best way to mitigate aggressive wildlife interaction is to educate the public. Since WildSafe BC and BearAware programs have come into existence, the number of bears that communities destroy each year has been significantly reduced from a yearly average of 1,000 bears prior to the programs implementation to between 500 and 600 today, province-wide. While I am sure that education has played a huge role in the direct reduction of bear destruction I believe that education, not exclusively within these programs, has also played a larger role in communities, moving residents to actively reduce aggressive wildlife conflicts.
While the curriculum and way of teaching varied, one of the most common methods was refuse disposal and attractant management. Unless you have buried your head in the sand, you know that garbage attracts bears. This was something that was echoed throughout the interviews. Open or easily accessible garbage is the equivalent to a bear scoring three cherries on a slot machine. Unfortunately for me, bears win more than I do – especially in Fernie.
Fernie is the only community out of the 10 that I spoke to that does not have a municipal wide bear-resistant garbage disposal program. While council has implemented new bylaws that will go on to improve our bear-human reduction rates within city limits, a bear can still likely open the non bear-resistant garbage cans.
A conversion to a different, bear-resistant, disposal routine would be hard for a community like ours. Many of the municipalities I spoke with were resort towns that are younger than Fernie. A resort town is more likely to see transient workforces and short term home owners. This means implementing change, like a waste program to reduce bear conflict, is much easier since many residents habits are not yet set in stone.
Another factor, which would only affect some types of garbage disposal, is NIMBY – the “Not in My Backyard” mentality. Sure, no one wants a metal box bigger than an AMC Gremlin in front of their house but no one wants to be attacked by a bear either.
Lastly, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of a garbage program is the cost. Buying new bins and retrofitting or buying a new garbage truck is expensive. If the city has leftover money from something such as a winter’s road clearing budget, they can’t easily allocate that funding to bear-resistant waste disposal. While the funding is not easy to come by, it is City Council’s responsibility to address this issue.
Last year’s bear destruction rates were unusually high, but there were more factors than just human-caused attractants. The unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of precipitation led to a food shortage for wildlife. The effects of which are still being felt by wildlife throughout the area, especially those who have just woken up from a lengthy sleep. We can do our best to eliminate attractants and educate ourselves and that will help, but we live in bear country, we have chosen to be here, and there will always be bears here.