New program aims to keep wildlife wild

The B.C. Conservation Foundation is rolling out a new program that will work to keep wildlife wild and communities safe.

The B.C. Conservation Foundation is rolling out a new program that will work to keep wildlife wild and communities safe.

An extension of Bear Aware, WildSafe BC will cover education on all forms of wildlife that come into contact with people in urban settings. The overall goal is to reduce human-wildlife conflict through education, innovation, and cooperation.

“This is something that has been evolving for quite a while,” commented Frank Ritcey, Provincial Coordinator for WildSafe BC. “We’ve built on Bear Aware, but WildSafe BC takes a slightly different approach in that we look at four key categories; live, work, play, and grow.”

He went on to say, “Deer, cougar, and coyotes all present different challenges in trying to get the public to first understand why the animals are showing up in urban settings, and secondly, what it takes to reduce the potential for conflict between humans and wildlife.”

Bear Aware has been running since 1999 and has seen the annual number of bears being destroyed drop from roughly 1,000 a year to around 500 a year.

“We’ve come a long way and you have to remember, this is in a time when our population is increasing and interactions are increasing,” explained Ritcey. “People have become much better at managing their attractants and the conservation officer service is having to destroy fewer animals because people are getting better.”

The hope is that WildSafe BC will only continue to improve these numbers for bears, and all other wildlife found in the province.

“No matter how the conflict begins, the group that usually suffers is the wildlife,” Ritcey remarked. “We’ve got to understand that we play a large part in the conflict, and quite often it’s easier for us to adjust how we behave than it is to have the animals adjust how they behave.”

One of the ways the program will educate the public about the extent of human-wildlife conflicts is with a new mapping initiative. The Wildlife Alert and Reporting Program will display a summary of weekly wildlife sightings and conflicts from around the province, and will allow people to report sightings, in detail, as they are happening.

“It’s really the first program of its type anywhere. It’s pretty exciting that B.C. and our organization gets to be a part of this really groundbreaking use of the internet,” said Ritcey.

Kathy Murray, Elk Valley Bear Aware Coordinator, will be leading the WildSafe BC program in the Elk Valley, covering Fernie, Sparwood, Elkford, and the South Country. The program is locally sponsored by the Regional District of East Kootenay, the City of Fernie, the District of Elkford, and Columbia Basin Trust.

For more information visit the WildSafe BC Elk Valley Facebook page, or to view recent sightings in your area visit www.bearaware.bc.ca/bearaware.