Vancouver Island’s West Coast has doubled its efforts to prevent conflicts between humans and wildlife.
The region is coming off a particularly brutal year in terms of coexisting with wildlife as 14 food-conditioned bears were killed in 2019.
The death toll remains at zero so far this season and WildSafeBC Pacific Rim coordinator Bob Hansen is urging residents and visitors to be vigilant securing their attractants, primarily garbage, to help keep it that way.
“Right now is a crucial time. It seems to be just on the verge…We’ve had a fair bit of sightings on the edge of the communities and, for the most part, it’s bears foraging on natural foods,” he said. “This is our opportunity. If we can get on top of it and not have any bins out the night before garbage pickup, then we’re hoping that will prevent getting into the kind of cycle that we saw last year.”
In an effort to keep attractants under control, Hansen has joined forces with newly hired Hitacu-Macoah WildSafeBC coordinator Marianne Paquette and the pair are patrolling the region to ensure all garbage bins are properly secured.
Local bylaws prohibit Electoral Area C residents from putting their garbage bins out before 5 a.m. on the morning of pickup, while residents of Tofino and Ucluelet must wait until 6 a.m. to put their garbage out.
“During nighttime hours, the bears can move more freely around the community and discover those bins that are left out,” Hansen said. “It’s just a high risk situation that can lead down the road of conflict.”
Hansen and Paquette will be conducting surveys and putting yellow stickers on any bins they find out too early that explain the bylaws and lay out the impacts unsecured garbage can have on the local bear population.
“We have a high density of bears in our region and the vast majority of bears are sticking to foraging on natural foods and we have a high abundance of natural foods throughout the year. It’s that one-time experience that can send a particular bear down a different path and a path that leads into conflict within the community,” Hansen said. “It can be that initial situation that leads to a broader scope of conflict within the community and that rarely ends well for the bear.”
He suggested garbage can serve as a gateway to bears becoming addicted to unnatural food sources as bears who get into a garbage can will often hang around the offending property and sniff out other food sources, like bird feeders, outdoor freezers and composts.
“They are opportunists and they’re also omnivores so a whole variety of things appear to be food to them,” he said. “So, learning that, once a week, there’s an abundance of food set out on the road, if there’s quite a number of people putting garbage cans out the night before, then that can result in a food conditioned bear. They make that connection and then they start to repeat that access to garbage over and over again and, as we know, that can lead to other forms of conflict.”
He said the results from the season’s first survey were promising as no bins were found left out in Area C and just one was found in Ucluelet, though seven were found in Tofino.
“We’ve got some work to do in Tofino for sure,” Hansen said. “We’d like to see better results there, but overall it’s a pretty encouraging start. We don’t have far to go to get it down to zero in all our communities.”
Repeat offenders whose garbage bins are repeatedly found unsecured or put out early, will be reported to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service and could face fines of up to $575 under the B.C. Wildlife Act.
More information about local WildSafeBC programs, along with tips for securing and managing attractants, can be found at wildsafebc.com as well as the WildSafeBC Pacific Rim and WildSafeBC Hitacu-Macoah Facebook pages. Hansen can be reached at 250-266-0311 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Paquette can be reached at 514-622-7317 or email@example.com.
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