Inspector Joe Caravetta with the BC Conservation Service talks to locals at the Jaffray bear meeting held on January 8. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

OPINION: Jaffray bear meeting good first step, but not enough

A large number of individuals attended the grizzly bear meeting in Jaffray on Tuesday, January 8, and for good reason. An increase of 37 bear calls in one year is cause for concern.

In addition to the nearly 200 locals, there were also representatives from the Regional District of East Kootenay, the provincial Opposition, the Fish and Wildlife Association and the BC Conservation Officer (CO) Service in attendance.

This meeting was a great opportunity for government leaders to see and understand the magnitude of concern from locals, but in my opinion, it barely scratched the surface of this issue. These talks need to continue but most importantly there needs to be solutions brought to the table.

If I understand correctly this meeting, which took over three months to arrange, was organized by Liberal Party representative and Kootenay East MLA, Tom Shypitka. And even after all that time, the biologist who spearheads the South Grizzly Bear Project, collects bear data, and collars bears around the Elk Valley, was not in attendance. The biologist who was invited was from out of town and he was given less than a days notice to prepare.

In addition, a representative for the Ministry of Environment, who was supposed to be listening in and responding to questions from locals, was unable to connect to the call.

I would be lying if I said that this didn’t bother me. Poor planning prevented any real data from reaching the microphone. I left the meeting feeling dissatisfied; that very little had been accomplished. From where I was standing at the meeting and even as I sat and wrote the story afterwards, I started to feel more and more that the meeting was pure politics; a platform for politicians to say they support a community without offering any concrete solutions.

Further to this point, Mr. Shypitka suggested that the the Grizzly bear trophy hunting ban introduced by the B.C. NDP government in 2017 was the main contributing factor to the 38 bear sightings in the Jaffray area in 2018, as compared to 2017 which saw one call.

At first glance this makes sense; if you’re not destroying grizzly bears then of course they’re going to flood down from the mountains and invade the townsfolk, right? Wrong. I would argue that at this point the hunting ban has nothing to do with the increase in bear sightings. As biologist Holger Bohm said, grizzlies don’t reproduce like bunny rabbits. Any increase in bear numbers as a result of the hunting ban would take many years to take effect.

An important factor to note is that the number of bears destroyed last year did not increase as the number of calls did. There was one bear destroyed in Jaffray in 2017 and another in 2018. I would argue that just a few bears could have easily been the cause of the 38 reports last year by locals. If a few nosy bears found a good source of food in town, it’s not unlikely that those bears decided to stick around.

We must be careful what we put into the minds of people. Assuming before knowing better can create confusion and pull the focus away from the real issues. I would even go so far as to say that fearmongering is a tactic used by some to scare people into believing their story. I must clarify that I am not calling Mr. Shypitka a liar; he has his own opinions about what is causing the increase in bear traffic and that’s perfectly acceptable. In fact, I commend him for organizing this meeting and bringing to the table many knowledgeable minds, such as Inspector Joe Caravetta with the CO Service. We need politicians who will bring local issues to the minds of the higher ups. We should be collecting the facts and basing our decisions more on numbers than opinions. We need government representatives to allow those who are the most knowledgeable to have a voice.

In situations such as these, where numbers are everything, we need those who have the numbers to be present. In this situation, I believe scientists should have a larger pedestal to stand on than politicians.

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