Trail users will be a missing a familiar face at the trailhead this summer, with longtime local WildsafeBC coordinator, Kathy Murray, retiring from her role in educating the public about wildlife safety.
In a role she’s occupied since 2005, Murray has educated thousands of locals and visitors alike about bear awareness and wildlife safety, with the goal of making bear country safer for people and wildlife and reducing human-wildlife conflict.
Murray started out being afraid of bears, but an encounter with one at Lake Louise changed all that.
“I took a job at Lake Louise in 1998 – grizzly bear country -where I was thinking what were the chances of having an encounter with a bear with five million people in the park every summer. I’d been there for about three days and was out mountain biking, came round a blind corner and surprised a grizzly, and got bluff charged.”
She got out of the situation safely, and since then has been all about spreading awareness, since her own encounter was like so many encounters locals and tourists have with wildlife around B.C. every day.
“I decided if I was going to spend time in grizzly bear habitat, it was up to me to learn more about wildlife and safety and what to do. I decided to take that fear and turn it into something positive.”
She took on a role with the BC Conservation Foundation as the Elk Valley’s WildsafeBC coordinator in 2005, and has diversified the role from bears to all wildlife people might encounter in regional B.C. whether in town or out on trails and in the back country.
“Over time I pushed and got my way, so the program evolved. We did a lot of pilot programs here.”
Murray said she’d really miss working with kids and talking about wildlife awareness and safety – but she wasn’t going to miss the late night calls about bears eating garbage.
“Is there a perfect solution? Not really (but) in Fernie we’ve come a long way.
“I think things are much better than they were – there is a lot more awareness, but there are lots of challenges.”
Those challenges could turn into very bad years for wildlife encounters, such as last year where dozens of garbage-habituated bears were shot by Conservation Officers and more were killed by road traffic and trains, not to mention the hundreds of reported bear encounters.
“There’s a reason for that … We have more people on the trails, on the highway, we have logging, mining, we have everything. So the potential for conflict is going to keep increasing as long as we have more people and more wildlife.”
Murray said despite that, progress was being made and the WildsafeBC program was doing great work.
Speaking of WildsafeBC, as a provincial program it won’t be going anywhere just because Murray is – her role will eventually be filled, and wildlife education will continue in the area.
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