BC Parks Wildlife Viewing Platform misunderstood

The objective is to maintain bear ‘refugia’ where shy bears can choose to forage relatively undisturbed by people.

Dear Editor,

I am not on social media nor do I want to enter the quagmire of current discussion around bear/people problems in the lower valley. However, as someone who has been involved with BC Parks wildlife viewing platform within Tweedsmuir Park for four years, I feel compelled to correct some of the information in the recent on-line survey.

The viewing platform is operated from Sept 1 – 30 (not August 15-October 15) and, far from being limited to eight people, the objective is to encourage the bear viewing public to use the platform, rather than wander throughout the Atnarko corridor, endangering their own safety and stressing bears.

The scientific rationale behind the platform has been explained in regular Coast Mountain news articles, notices on community bulletin boards and on the BC Parks website. The April 2014 report referenced in the on-line survey sets out the management direction very clearly. Along much of the Atnarko River, the objective is to maintain bear ‘refugia’ where shy bears can choose to forage relatively undisturbed by people.

Where Hwy #20 gives people ready access to the river, the objective is to increase the predictability of where bears are likely to encounter people – hence, the electric-fenced platform. This not only improves safety for people but also reduces (not increases) stress on bears, leaving them the option to forage in these areas – or not.

The on-line survey made frequent use of the term ‘habituated bears’. Bears biologists make a clear distinction between habituated bears (who tolerate the presence of people) and food conditioned bears (who associate food with humans or their infrastructure).  Many of the Atnarko bears may be people habituated but they are not food conditioned – and we are all very careful to ensure they do not become so.

We have lived along the Atnarko River for 13 years. While bears wander through our property on a regular basis, never once have we had a ‘bear problem’. Why not? Because we are very careful with all garbage and we manage our compost properly.

Professional opinion is clear on this point. The primary factor in bear/people problems within settled communities is bears being attracted to non-natural food sources, like garbage and unpicked fruit. The most effective way to discourage bears from encroaching on people space is to ensure they don’t have the opportunity to access these non-natural food sources.

Sincerely,

Joan SawickiStuie