By Steve Hubrecht
Bear Aware is back in a whole new guise, with a sleek new website to go along with the revamped program.
The long-standing Bear Aware program has run in various B.C. communities for more than a decade, and in the District of Invermere and the Village of Radium Hot Springs for two years, but this year it has expanded into a new incarnation — WildSafeBC.
“In response to requests from communities such as Invermere, we’ve expanded to include conflicts with all kinds of wildlife,” said provincial WildSafe co-ordinator Frank Ritcey. “Even bigger B.C. communities such as Vancouver will have wildlife issues with, say, urban coyotes. It doesn’t matter where people live in this province, there are bound to be conflicts between humans and wildlife.”
WildSafeBC will continue to educate the public about bear behavior and how to reduce bear attractants, and correspondingly reduce bear-human conflicts, but will also do so for deer, cougar, coyotes, elk and a host of other animals.
In many communities, deer can be a bigger issue than bears, according to Mr. Ritcey.
“You’ll find many of the species have the same messaging,” he said. “Garbage is the number one attractant.”
WildSafeBC recently launched a website, in conjunction with its expanded mission, called the Wildlife Alert Reporting Program (or WARP for short). The highly interactive site allows people to report wildlife incidents, which are then placed on a province-wide map with colour-coded icons. The icons take the shape of the animals in each incident and the colours correspond to the type of attractant — garbage, compost, livestock, pets, bird feeders and so on.
Clicking on an icon will bring up a full report of each incident. Icons will stay on the site for about a month, gradually fading in colour as time goes by, so viewers can tell at a glance if they are looking at a recent event or something that happened weeks ago. People can use advance filters to search by type of incident, for instance searching for all aggressive-behaving, garbage-seeking bear encounters in a certain area. The site gives an excellent, quick overview of what types of wildlife conflicts are occurring where.
“It’s a great solution to report and document sightings,” said Mr. Ritcey. “It’s a powerful program. It’s the first of its kind in the world.”
The website currently shows an aggressive grizzly incident and a garbage-seeking black bear in Radium, and a bear and a deer incident in Invermere.
When Bear Aware began in 1999, about 1,000 bears a year had to be killed in B.C., mostly because they were coming into conflict with humans, but last year that number was down to 500, according to Mr. Ritcey.
“We’ve gotten a lot better at managing our attractants,” he said. “The program has been successful that way. But as our population increases and we encroach more and more on wildlife habitat, conflict will increase.”
Local WildSafeBC co-ordinator Crystal Leonard said people still need to be vigilant about keeping garbage inside until 8 a.m. on garbage days and keeping other attractants, such as fruit trees and bird feeders well-managed.
“If you choose to have a birdfeeder, take it down from April to November,” said Ms. Leonard.
“People get defensive about birdfeeders and I understand why, but unfortunately birdfeeders are also bearfeeders and deerfeeders,” said Mr.Ritcey.
“There’s no doubt deer can be aggressive,” said Mr. Ritcey, adding that Invermere has a particular problem since the town now has some second-generation urban deer — in other words, deer that were born and raised completely within town.
“They don’t know what it is like to be in the wild. That becomes an issue in terms of management,” he said.
“Deer can definitely bring hungry cougars into town,” said Ms. Leonard.
WildSafeBC is owned by the B.C. Conservation Fund and run locally with financial support from the Regional District of East Kootenay, the District of Invermere, the Village of Radium Hot Springs and the Columbia Basin Trust.
The organization will soon have a Columbia Valley-centric Facebook page.
Valley residents wanting to report incidents by phone can call the Report All Poachers and Pollutants (or RAPP) hotline at 1-877-952-7277.