It has been a mixed bag for bear reports in the Elk Valley according to Elk Valley Wildsafe Coordinator Andrea Fletcher.
“It was nothing like last year,” she said. “There has only been in Fernie 83 black bear reports, vs. 215 by this time last year.”
For the rest of the valley, the numbers were the other way around, with black bear reports at a five-year high at 114 as of the end of October, compared to a five-year average of 53 annually.
Grizzly reports are in too, with the valley at a five-year low at 18 for 2022, compared to average of 31. For other wildlife reports, there’s also a decrease in reports.
Fletcher said that the decrease in black bear reports in Fernie had a few factors influencing it, such as a lack of an intense heatwave like in 2021, which limited food supply, and pushed bears down to the valley floor to look for food, leading to a horror year for bear deaths with dozens shot by Conservation Officers and many more killed by traffic and trains.
While Conservation Officers are yet to release the number of bears destroyed so far in 2022, according to CO Patricia Burley they have destroyed food-habituated bears in every community in the Elk Valley this year.
“Last year we killed several of the food-conditioned bears that may have been causing problems in the first place,” said Fletcher.
“I also would guess that there’s been a bit of a hesitancy to report bears this year based on what happened last year … I understand where people are coming from, but if we can report these bears then we can make changes in neighbourhoods before they become a problem and the bears will have a better chance.”
Fletcher, who began as Wildsafe Coordinator at the start of the year said that encouraging locals to do the right thing with securing garbage and ensuring there were no attractants around was a frustrating experience.
“There’s a lot of people who are extremely aware, and there’s a lot of people that only need to be told once because they just moved to town or they’re visiting and they didn’t know … but it can be quite frustrating when you have repeat offenders.”
Fletcher said her approach there had been to try to find a shared experience. “Some people might not care about the bear’s life perhaps, but they will care about the safety of the neighbourhood children.”
“Going into next year people have to focus on keeping their garbage indoors and businesses need to secure their garbage. A few bears got into dumpsters which is not necessary.”
She said it was very fulfilling to line up wins for the wildlife though, describing conversations with local businesses that only days later would have new, bear-proof bins.
“There’s a big push in this community to have more bear-safe practices, and whoever comes into this role can just roll with that momentum.”
There will be a new person in the role in 2023, with Fletcher moving on to take on a full-time paramedic position in Terrace next month.
Overall, she said that liaising with the people of the Elk Valley and providing educational tools had been a worthwhile experience, and said that whoever replaces her (with the contract going fro May to November) will have a lot of goodwill to work with, and a lot of ground to cover.
“I found it a very interesting job,” she said. “There were a lot of really positive parts of it…(like) when you’re at school groups and you’re talking to kids and they obviously have all the answers. It’s amazing how much the kids in this valley already know. “
Fletcher said that in her experience, people considering applying for the job would need to be good at organising themselves and spending their time wisely, given the ground that needed to be covered and the many people that would reach out. On the flip-side, school groups and community groups that would like to receive wildlife education talks in the new year should reach out to Wildsafe BC at firstname.lastname@example.org from May onward.
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