Council to consider becoming a bear smart community

Trent Ernst, Editor

This summer was one filled with berries and bears around town.

Because of the many bear sighting around town, Council recently asked staff for a report to investigate options.

One of the options they wanted staff to look at was relocating the bears, but this, says Bylaw Enforcement Officer Jane Butters in her report to Council, only works in a few specific situations.

While this summer seemed to have more bear sightings than normal, people have not been reporting these sightings to conservation. “Conservation Officers have told us one of the issues they run in to is people not reporting their bear sightings,” says Butter in the report. “All bear sightings should be reported to the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277. Conservation Officers in the area are then notified of the reports, and can track bears easier.”

Bears that become nuisance bears within a community that has bear attractants are trapped and euthanized, writes Butters.

“Translocation is one management option that is available. It is used for sow (female) grizzly bears in good health because it is good for the population and also because they are less motivated to return to their original territory. Translocation, however, is rarely successful and often these bears return, or try to return, to their original home territory, or they become “problem” bears in other communities.”

Even if the bears fail to return to their home territory, translocated bears often fail to adapt to their new habitat. “They often starve to death or are killed by bears already occupying the area, both deaths being much slower and crueler then euthanizing,” says Butters.

“Grizzly bears are especially adamant about returning to their home territory, and large healthy male grizzly bears often return starving and injured.” This makes them more dangerous than when they left.

In addition, she says, removing bears from around town causes “population funnels” that draw in new bears to the area, who are often young, unpredictable rouge males.

Rather than translocation, says Butters, the Conservation Foundation wants to see the District take proactive steps towards becoming a Bear Smart Community to reduce bear/human conflicts. “Conservation has said that if there are no attractants available within the community, other techniques become available for deterring bears in the area such as hazing. But this will be unsuccessful if attractants are available.”

Hazing is another non-lethal technique of dealing with bears, but, like translocation, it is only successful in certain situations. Unlike translocation, which depends on the bear, hazing depends on the people of the town to take action to eliminate the amount of attractants available to the bears.

The Bear Smart Community program is proactive conservation strategy that encourages efforts by communities, businesses and individuals to reduce bear/human conflicts.

The goal of the program is to focus efforts on addressing the root causes of bear/human conflicts, reduce the number of conflicts and ultimately, reduce the number of bears that have to be destroyed due to conflicts.

And the root of those problems? Seldom lie with the bear. In order to become a Bear Smart Community, says Butters, the District would need to prepare a bear hazard assessment of the community and surrounding area, prepare a bear/human conflict management plan that is designed to address the bear hazards and land-use conflicts identified in the previous step, and revise planning and decision-making documents to be consistent with the bear/human conflict management plan.

In addition, the District would need to implement a continuing education program directed at all sectors of the community, develop and maintain a bear-proof municipal solid waste management system, and implement bear smart bylaws prohibiting the provision of food to bears as a result of intent, neglect, or irresponsible management of attractants.

There are currently only seven communities with the Bear Smart Community designation and another twenty working on it.

The bear smart website says that traditionally, BC has had a reactive approach to wildlife management. Bears in the community present a threat to humans, creating a need to respond (react) to the situation, so the bears are destroyed or removed. This means that there is no reason for people to change their behavior, so they don’t, and when bears enter the community, the cycle begins again.

The Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection is willing to provide technical advice to communities that are seeking to obtain Bear Smart status.

However, not all Council is convinced that the town needs to change from its reactionary approach to Bear Management. Councillor Howe, for instance, says he’s not convinced Tumbler Ridge needs to go through the process to be Bear Smart. “I want to know who to talk to, so we can come up with a plan to have a more timely response to the bear problem.”