Special to Coast Mountain News
Last summer WildSafeBC undertook a human-bear interaction social science survey in the Bella Coola Valley. The online and paper questionnaire was the first of its kind to be conducted in the valley and formed part of the Bear Hazard Assessment that was also being drafted for the community last year.
Consisting of 39 questions, the survey was completed by 188 people and was designed to provide further insights into the how residents generally felt about living alongside both black bears and grizzly bears and some challenges they faced in reducing conflicts.
While understanding wildlife ecology and behaviour is important when working to address human-wildlife conflict incidence, understanding and appreciating human values, opinions and experiences, is also a vital component in ensuring conflict is successfully prevented. With the survey completed and analyzed, findings are to be used to help guide specific conflict mitigation strategies and can also be used as a baseline from which to measure how successful strategies are in reducing conflict going forward.
The survey found that 90 per cent of respondents like having bears in the valley but 24 per cent had concerns regarding the conflicts they may cause and 28 per cent were concerned about the safety risk they pose. This is despite the fact that 43 per cent of survey respondents feel that conflicts have increased in the past three years. Bear traffic is high with over 40 per cent of respondents having spotted bears more than 10 times on their property or street in the past three years.
When asked ‘what were the main causes of changes in conflict levels’ most respondents stated ‘attractant management,’ followed by ‘food availability’ and ‘human behaviour.’ Respondents recorded ‘accessing fruit trees and bushes’ as the most common cause for conflict, and many respondents said they would ‘pick ripe fruit immediately’ and / or ‘clean up windfall as soon as possible’ to prevent bears from accessing fruit. Many respondents also stated they have or would consider installing electric fencing to prevent bears from accessing fruit trees yet the cost of doing so was a barrier for some.
Over 87 per cent of respondents felt that the Bear Smart Community program is important and work should continue to prevent conflicts by addressing the root causes.
WildSafeBC sincerely thanks everyone who took the time to complete the survey and we are already putting the information into action. This season, as WildSafeBC Community Coordinator I will be focusing on assisting people with fruit tree management, providing bear safety talks and training, facilitating electric fencing workshops, and much more to assist the community in adopting best practices to safely coexist with bears. The information can also be used to inform the Human-Bear Conflict Management Plan and inform the work done by the Bella Coola Valley Bear Safety Committee.
If you would like to learn more about the survey, please contact Rae Kokeš at email@example.com
The survey found that almost 70 per cent of residents do not report bears to the Conservation Officer Service. We encourage residents to continue to report wildlife in conflict or sightings of bears, wolves or cougars in communities, to the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.
These reports are made available to everyone via WildSafeBC’s Wildlife Alert Reporting Program and you can sign up for free alerts. You can learn more about WARP at https://wildsafebc.com/programs/what-is-warp/
WildSafeBC is the provincial leader in preventing conflict with wildlife through collaboration, education and community solutions – “Keeping wildlife wild and communities safe”. We are grateful for funding from the Province of B.C.
Rae Kokeš is the WildSafeBC coordinator in the Bella Coola Valley