The Bear Aware program for the District of Invermere and Village of Radium Hot Springs is entering its second year, and co-ordinator Crystal Leonard says she wants to keep up the good work both communities showed in the first year of the program.
“Everyone around both communities was really receptive,” Leonard said.
Bear Aware is a community educational program run by the British Columbia Conservation Society. The program has been active in over 30 communities in British Columbia since 1998, and Leonard said she was able to reach thousands of valley residents this past year through a number of educational events, school visits and door-to-door campaigning.
The goal behind the program is simple, explains Leonard, as it all has to do with reducing attractants such as garbage, bird feeders and greasy barbecues to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.
“It’s important that residents realize how important reducing attractants is, and how dangerous it is to leave garbage out,” she said. “The main goal is minimizing these attractants, which is also the biggest challenge that we face.”
What makes the Columbia Valley unique when it comes to the Bear Aware program is the prevalence of second-home owners.
“We have a lot of people coming into the community that don’t know about bears being in the area,” said Leonard. “Going door-to-door last year, I learned that some people can be very complacent with bears being around.”
In Leonard’s opinion, the main reason people don’t call bears in when they see them is because they are afraid the bear will be immediately destroyed. However, she explained, this is not the case, and phoning in a bear can actually increase its likelihood of survival.
By having people call in bear sightings, Leonard and the local conservation officers can then focus on specific areas so that the bears don’t become comfortable in any specific neighbourhood, which is when the most problems arise.
Up to 600 bears are destroyed each year in B.C. because they become conditioned to human food and habituated around people.
“As soon as that garbage is [brought inside], the better chance a bear has,” Leonard said. “As soon as a bear gets a taste for garbage, it’s less of a chance that bear will survive.”
Another reason Leonard thinks why people don’t call in is because they don’t often see an immediate response when they do. To that effect, Leonard says the Bear Aware program will have new methods of communication in place this year in order to speed up that process. Whereas calls to the RAPP line in previous years first went to Victoria before working their way down the chain of command, this year will see the entire process streamlined to allow local conservation officers to react to situations more quickly. Also new this year will be a map under the “bear sightings” tab on their website: www.bearaware.bc.ca. This map will be updated weekly with information from sightings that are called in, to let people know their calls are making a difference to the entire community.
In the future, there is potential the local Bear Aware program could shift its focus to wildlife education of all kinds, from deer to bighorn sheep to cougars, but for now the program will continue to focus on bear awareness and conflict prevention.
To phone in a bear sighting, call the RAPP line 1-877-952-7277. Some basic tips to reduce attractants include storing garbage inside until day of pick up, taking down bird feeders during bear season, picking fruit as it ripens so as to not let it fall to the ground, and to clean barbecues after every use. For more information on the Bear Aware program, contact Leonard at 250-688-0561, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.