‘Sincere desire to avoid wanton destruction of local bears’ is majority opinion

I maintain a large vegetable garden and very productive orchard.

Dear Editor;

I have read with interest the series of submissions and letters regarding “Cherry Bear” and would offer the following comments. I’ve lived in this valley for 35 years, raising my family in a part of Bella Coola that I’ve come to call “bear central.” Over more than three decades of encounters with and observations of both grizzly and black bears, I’ve never fired a single warning shot nor do I own a firearm. I maintain a large vegetable garden and very productive orchard.

While bear behavior has not changed since 1977, local attitudes towards bear presence in the valley certainly have! The most immediate indicator of this evolution is the fact that none of the respondents to Corissa and Kiff assert something akin to a divine right to shoot any bear that dares set foot on their property, something I heard very often in 1977.  In fact, a sincere desire to avoid wanton destruction of local bears is expressed by all respondents, and I believe this represents what has become the view of a vast majority of valley residents.

While I respect the validity of the emotional trauma Corissa expresses in her narration of the “Cherry Bear” incident, I do not share her negative and derogatory opinions of her neighbors. Similarly, Kiff’s   pronouncement of the Bearing Witness Phone Tree heralds a vague but sinister Orwellian vigilantism. This peculiar initiative raises far more questions than it provides answers, both for property owners and bears. As one who has worn his “bear preservationist” colors on his sleeve since a time when such a designation was a grand insult, I am surprised that no one asked me to join Kiff’s “remarkable list of volunteers.” However, I do hope the Conservation Officer and the RCMP discuss with these “volunteers” the legalities and personal safety issues related to entering onto private property, whether in daylight or most likely after dark, when gunfire has been reported and possibly wounded bears remain nearby.

I’ve found over the course of innumerable intense and pointed discussions about bear-human conflict in the valley that a respectful exchange of views most often results in common ground. Building upon that common ground has and will continue to reduce these conflicts. Bear-human conflicts, which generally result in a great many unnecessary bear deaths, can only be ameliorated by establishing AND maintaining a working management consensus that involves the entire community.

That is how I was finally able to work within my role as a CCRD director to implement a valley-wide Bear Aware Program. Functioning together with Bear Aware is the Bella Coola Bear Working Group (BCBWG). Besides your writer, this large group includes representatives of BC Parks, Ministry of Environment, the Conservation Officer Service, DFO, RCMP, the Nuxalk Nation, the local Agriculture Society, tourism operators, the Bear Aware Coordinator and community representatives who bring the widest range of views to the table. BCBWG works to maintain and expand community consensus aimed at reducing bear-human conflicts. Just having this group regularly discussing such hot-button issues and exploring solutions without coming to blows is a singular achievement in itself!

The BCBWG has moved forward in its short life with a number of important community initiatives, from acquiring educational workbooks to be distributed in valley schools, holding two electric fencing workshops and providing materials at cost to valley residents who choose to install modern and more effective electric fencing. And in response to Anne Fletcher’s call for “open, respectful conversation” regarding bears, I can assure her that this conversation is already taking place.

To state the obvious, efforts that weaken and undermine this hard-won community consensus, such as certain of Corissa’s statements as well as Kiff’s Bearing Witness initiative, will most assuredly result in the destruction of more bears. We are privileged in my opinion to live in one of a very few locations in B.C. that maintains a concentration of bears; they have disappeared from far too many others! As the salmon stocks, particularly the Atnarko  pinks, continue to decline, we can expect more close encounters with our resident bruins.

How this community deals with unusually hungry bears in the future will demand patience and understanding.  If you need advice and/or help, contact the Bear Aware coordinator. Her primary goal is to reduce bear-human conflict in a manner that respects both. As for those few who choose insult and intimidation, you will not help your community to be a better place – and you will most assuredly not help bears!

Sincerely,

Kevin O’Neill