Council hears concerns about bears

A representative from WildSafeBC and a conservation officer addressed the mayor and council about increased issues with bears.

WildSafeBC Community Coordinator Kathy Murray and local conservation officer Sgt. Cam Schley attended the most recent Committee of the Whole meeting at City Hall to directly address concerns relating to bears in the area.

The meeting was held on Oct. 13 at 10 a.m. Residents of Fernie were welcomed to the meeting, and residents cited their concerns relating to bears and bylaw enforcement.

An online petition was created on Oct. 5 in support of an open letter to Mayor Mary Guiliano. The petition, started by Fernie resident Rachel Dortman, specifically addressed bylaw 2059, focusing on commercial waste containers that attract bears into residential areas.

“I would ask that either an amendment or a brand new bylaw be instituted that would mandate only Bear proof containers within the City of Fernie for all commercial applications possibly excluding temporary construction waste containers, this would, I feel, go at least part of the way to preventing this mass slaughter of bears within our community,” wrote Dortman in the open letter.

The petition has 679 signatures as of press deadline, and has a goal of 1000 signatures.

At the meeting, Mayor Guiliano listened to the concerns presented and opened the floor to Murray and Schley to discuss potential solutions to the increased number of bear encounters this year. Schley attributed the increased bear encounters to a low berry crop in the wilderness due to hot temperatures. “It’s been one of those years. Comparatively this year to last year, as far as complaints go, we are probably triple what the normal average year would be in Fernie. We attribute that to mostly the berry crop failure that happened this year,” said Schley.

While the city has bylaws in place to discourage people from leaving their garbage out, the City has taken an “education first” policy, meaning that the bylaw officers offer warnings before delegating any fines for violations. Mayor Guiliano said one of the reasons for the education first policy is that many new residents are not familiar with the responsibilities of living in bear country, and would like the opportunity to educated new residents before fining them.

Another issue addressed was fruit trees in residential areas, especially those in rental properties that aren’t regularly maintained. Murray reminded Council of the responsibility people take on when they decide to live in bear country.

“Owning a fruit tree when you live in bear country is a huge responsibility,” said Murray, adding that liability issues thwart WildsafeBC from conduction clean up initiatives.

While there were no direct outcomes to the hour-long discussion, Council made a motion to continue talking with Schley and Murray along with citizens of Fernie to brainstorm solutions to the issue.  Other municipalities in heavily bear-populated areas, such as Squamish, Whistler and Banff were mentioned, citing they may have solutions that could be beneficial to Fernie.

Twenty bears have been destroyed in the Fernie area this year. Comparitively, six have been destroyed in Sparwood while Elkford has destroyed three.