A bear and her cub seen near Fernie in late Fall 2020. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

WildSafeBC: Education and preventing human-wildlife conflict in the Elk Valley during a pandemic

WildSafeBC’s local coordinator Kathy Murray reports on the year that was

WildSafeBC’s local representative has reported there were 160 black and brown bear reports made in the Elk Valley and South Country to WildSafeBC and the Conservation Officer Service (COS) through the 2020 season.

“Grizzly bear activity was reported throughout the season,” said WildSafeBC Community Coordinator Kathy Murray.

“There were daily grizzly bear sightings on Highline Drive at FAR and The Cedars in the spring and fall. Grizzly bears were also seen just outside Sparwood by a mobile home park and throughout local recreational areas. Black bears were reported throughout Fernie and other communities the entire season,” she said.

The 160 reports represented a decline on 2019, when there were 230 reports made to WildSafeBC and the COS.

“A significant increase in trail and backcountry use resulted in several human-wildlife sightings and encounters which lead to closures of Heiko’s and Josephine Falls trails to protect wildlife, campers and trail users,” said Murray.

“To date, two food conditioned and habituated black bears have been destroyed this year and one grizzly bear was killed by a vehicle on Highway 3 and another was hit by a train. Black and grizzly bear mortality has shown a decreasing trend since 2015 when 33 bears were destroyed in the EVSC program area.”

Murray said that there had been many challenges for the WildSafeBC program due to the pandemic, though she said it turned out to be a good opportunity to be creative in reaching out to more people on wildlife education.

“The standard WildSafeBC program activities were modified to follow COVID-19 safety precautions. Group sizes were smaller, presentations were held on Zoom and outdoors,” she said, explaining that given that her safety talks were usually outdoors, it was a challenge.

“I never rely on technology, so it was a shock for me to do my first wildlife safety talk on zoom using powerpoint and videos!”

Nevertheless, Murray said that Zoom has proven invaluable in reaching children in more remote communities.

“I was grateful for the fall when I talked to more than 500 preschool and kindergarten children in small groups, one class at a time, outside for a basic show and tell with wildlife props and role play. It makes my day when I see parents and they tell me that when they encountered a bear, their 5 year old took the lead and told the group to stay calm and back away slowly. Children are great educators.”

Murray said she was looking forward to being able to set up at community events again in the future in order to engage with the community, but said that over the last year there were many opportunities anyway.

“An increase in trail use was a great opportunity to set up the WildSafeBC display at popular trail heads. You would be surprised at how many people head to trails with brand new bear spray with the zip tie still around the safety latch in the bottom of their backpack! This is not having it easily accessible and knowing how to use it.”

For more information, visit wildsafebc.com.

READ MORE: Bears turn in for winter (soon)

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