Wildsafe reflects on a safe 2016 season

Wildsafe is going into hibernation for the winter months and will re-emerge in the spring.

Wildsafe is going into hibernation for the winter months and will re-emerge in the spring. The Free Press spoke with Wildsafe B.C. Elk Valley Community Coordinator, Kathy Murray about how the 2016 season went.

“This year, overall, we have seen a huge reduction in human-wildlife conflict; especially in the Elk Valley and South Country communities and also in recreational areas. What is interesting to note is that trail use, especially in Fernie, continues to increase. We have had almost no reports for human-wildlife interactions on trails this year and I think that is a good sign,” she said.

Murray believes that the largest factor attributing to the decreasing interactions was increased.

“People are starting to travel in groups more often and are beginning to make more noise to let wildlife know of their presence as well as other things like carrying bear spray and having it easily accessible,” she said. “With regards to communities in general, it’s great to see all the districts leading by example. Fernie made some great progress this year, I’ve had nothing but positive feedback about the bear resistant communal bins that were put in and I certainly think that people are making use of them. It’s a small step in the right direction but in the future it would be great to see even more bear resistant bins available to the public if it is needed.”

Fernie was not the only community that looked into human-wildlife conflict reduction strategies.

“In Sparwood I have had meetings with district staff about having a fruit tree replacement program, and while it is just in discussion right now, it’s a good sign. The District of Sparwood is also working on a pilot project with certain businesses that have had human-wildlife conflict, that is trying to come to an agreement to support them in getting bear-resistant containers, which would be really good,” said Murray

Elkford’s previous steps to mitigate human-wildlife conflict saw continued success this year as well.

“Of course in Elkford they have the residential bear resistant dumpsters, which are available for residences that have no garage or shed. Their communal dumpsters have all been retrofitted with metal bars and latches, those are some very positive things,” said Murray.

One of the biggest reduction steps taken this year was not done by local governments but by The Elk Valley Homesteading Group which started the Fernie Apple Pick Program.

“…[The Apple Pick Program] was very successful – it is great to see people working together and at the end of the day I think that is how we will really reduce human-wildlife conflict,” said Murray. “Recognizing that every single thing that we as individuals do can make a difference is huge, and this proves that.”

According to Murray, due to the ample berry crop 2016 was a good year for bears.

“That makes a huge difference; when there are really good natural food sources we are much less likely to have bears in town year round,” she said. “Another factor, we had more than 30 food-conditioned and habituated bears that had to be destroyed across the Elk Valley and South Country last year. We also had the failed berry crop last summer as well as forest fires, logging and development and that all puts pressure on wildlife habitats. Last winter a lot of bears and sows went into hibernation in very rough shape so that means that this year there would have been a very low birth rate and a lot of those bears that went into hibernation in rough shape probably died during the winter.”

Murray believes that bears will begin to hibernate around the middle of November.

“We have had this warm spell over the past few days and bears may be re-emerging from their dens. Usually after the first few snowfalls bears will leave. I’d say roughly another couple of weeks of bears being around and then they usually go into hibernation until March-April in this region,” she said. “Unfortunately we do not have funding to support the program year round. That is something we are looking to do in the future though. For now the program typically runs from May until November.”

While Murray’s programs are focused on wildlife, a large part of her work is public outreach.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to do work with the various districts as well as the adults and children’s programs I do. This year, I have delivered the Wildsafe B.C. program to over 1,500 kids. The kids educational program is a really significant portion of what I do,” she said. “Kids are so good at delivering the message. I regularly get feedback from parents and teachers that the kids went home from school and did a little bear hazard audit around the property and then made recommendations to their parents. That is certainly one of my favourite parts of the job, working with schools and kids and the many community events. I am amazed with how much kids know, I was at a preschool in Elkford last Monday and these three and four year-olds had so many questions. They are going to be the future and it is so good to see they are engaged and interested in wildlife.”

In the event of a human-wildlife interaction we encourage people to please call the conservation hotline, at 1-877-952-7277, 24 hours a day.