Bear sightings prompt call for community action

Elk Valley and South Country residents have been urged to take responsibility for their property to prevent human-wildlife conflict and the unnecessary destruction of bears.

WildSafeBC continues to receive reports of bears riffling through garbage and destroying bird feeders at homes across the region, despite repeated calls to residents to remove attractants.

“The best way to keep people safe and prevent the needless destruction of bears is to remove the attractants,” said WildSafeBC Fernie and Elk Valley coordinator, Kathy Murray.

“Once you remove the attractants, the bears will move on.

“That means garbage goes in the garage, the bird feeder is taken down during bear season, which is May to late October, barbecues are kept clean (and) composts are managed responsibly.”

Last year, eight bears, including two black bear cubs, were destroyed by residents or the B.C. Conservation Officer Service in the Elk Valley and South Country due to the threat they posed to human safety.

According to statistics from the B.C. Government, 602 black bears and 32 grizzly bears were destroyed across the province between 2017-18.

In the Elk Valley and South Country, numbers continue to fluctuate, with nearly 30 bears destroyed in 2015 compared to three in 2016.

Murray attributed the 2015-16 decline to a good berry crop and increased awareness.

She put the average number of bears destroyed in the Elk Valley and South Country each year at about six.

Bears will only be targeted by Conservation Officers if they pose a threat to human safety.

“If the bear shows signs of aggression and again, a potential threat to human safety, then unfortunately, at that stage, it’s too late, the bears end up being destroyed,” said Murray.

According to Murray, relocation is not an option as the method seldom works.

“Unfortunately, the chances of their survival in new habitat is fairly low and once these bears have learned to feed on human food, they will make their way back to communities, maybe to the same community they were relocated from or somewhere else,” she said.

“So the bottom line is that the only way to prevent human-wildlife conflict and the destruction of bears is for every single person to take ownership and be responsible, and remove attractants.”

There was a noticeable increase in wildlife sightings over the Victoria Day long weekend as more people hit hiking and biking trails, and headed into the back country.

In Fernie, bears have recently been sighted by the boat launch at Dogwood Park and on Cedar Bowl Drive, Ridgemont Lane and Slalom Drive.

They have also been reported in Sparwood Heights, on Ponderosa Drive and at Lower Lodge Pole Trailer Park. Murray said bears could cover a lot of ground, quickly, and residents should expect to encounter wildlife at anytime.

They are required by local and provincial laws to manage attractants, and to ensure they are not providing food to dangerous wildlife.

“It’s very difficult to have a face-to-face conversation with every single person in the Elk Valley and South Country that has attractants out, so we really need to rely on the public to work together, by neighbourhood, by street,” said Murray.

“If you notice people on the street with garbage left outdoors between collection days, garbage scattered around, you might just have to take a little wander down the street and address the issue yourself, talk to your neighbours, work together and the end result will be a cleaner and safer community.

“If you’re uncomfortable doing that there are other avenues, you can contact me, WildSafeBC… or call the Conservation Officer Service.”

In Fernie, excess garbage can be taken to the Transfer Station on Highway 3 free of charge or to the bear-resistant community bins that are accessible 24/7 at the following locations: City Hall, Max Turyk Centre, Fernie Aquatic Centre, Fernie Memorial Arena and the Fernie Mobile Home Park.

Report wildlife encounters to 1-877-925-7277.

For more tips on avoiding wildlife-human contact, visit wildsafebc.com.

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