Bear season is upon us once again in the Bella Coola Valley and representatives from the Ministry of Environment visited the community last week, encouraging a proactive approach that involves an ongoing conversation within the community.
“The focus is really about getting the groups together,” said Mike Badry, Provincial Wildlife Conflict Prevention Coordinator. “We need to have that communication about the issues. Once we identify the issues, we can see what kind of resources are available and how we can mitigate these issues.”
Badry, who has an extensive background as a wildlife and habitat biologist, said his current position deals with human-wildlife conflicts “on all levels,” from raccoons to cougars.
“We live in areas inhabited by wild animals, it’s part of the benefits of living here,” he said. “A certain amount of conflict is bound to happen but let’s try and understand how it happens and why. Then we can work on reducing it.”
Badry said that his main work in the Bella Coola Valley will be helping to understand and mitigate any conflicts that happen, as well helping to reinvigorate the Bear Working Group, which he stresses as a very important initiative to reducing negative interactions with animals.
“It’s extremely important to get the community together and understand what’s causing the conflicts,” he explained. “We need to discover what works here and what doesn’t. There may be some simple practices we can implement right away and others that will take more time. And we can work on doing a Bear Hazard Assessment and develop a management plan that incorporates the unique aspects of this community.”
When questioned on whether or not he thought that commercial bear-viewing was influencing bear behaviour outside of the viewing areas, both Badry and Sgt. Len Butler of the COS said they did not know the answer.
“People often want to find that particular reason they think may be causing the problem and some have attached it to bear viewing,” said Butler. “ Do we know that for sure? I don’t think we do. In other areas it hasn’t been a problem, but it’s been a plausible excuse.”
Badry said that if the bear-viewing activity continued to be of concern to residents it may need to be further explored.
“If that’s keeping us from making headway, perhaps we need to try and find the answers,” he said. “I want to stress that we are not pro or anti-viewing, it has to be kept neutral. It’s possible a study could be designed to further explore this question.”
In regards to farming and livestock management, it’s been a part of life in the Valley for decades. Badry said that while the province encourages those initiatives, their implementation often produces conflicts.
“We don’t oppose any activity that increases local food sustainability,” Badry explained. “But we need to understand how to mitigate the potential conflicts. If you have backyard chickens, how can we manage that?”
Butler explained that the role of the COS is to ensure public safety comes first, but that people also need to take responsibility for managing their attractants.
“Under the Wildlife Act it is your responsibility to manage all your attractants to the best of your abilities,” said Butler. “ If we receive a call most often we will make suggestions on how to manage feed, install electric fencing, and deal with attractants. That’s often the end of the problem.”
However, Butler stressed that if dangerous wildlife are repeatedly causing problems and there is no action on the part of the owner, the COS will proceed with more enforcement. A Dangerous Wildlife Protection Order may be issued, where the owner has a certain amount of time to meet certain conditions.
“There is a certain amount of discretion we apply case-to-case and generally it’s a gradual process,” said Butler. “We want compliance and we will try for the least intrusive way, but we will take more action if necessary.”
Butler explained that any public safety issue is taken very seriously by the COS, and that individuals who are not managing attractants properly are also putting their neighbourhood at risk.
He also acknowledged that even with the best efforts, there are times when a bear will simply fail to get the message and will be destroyed.
“If you’ve done everything and that bear continues to come back, there comes a point in time where we will trap and destroy the animal,” said Butler. “We will always err on the side of caution. We want people to know that if we come down and trap an animal, it will be destroyed.”
Badry said that, with the exception of a few special cases, the province has pretty much abandoned the practice of relocation.
“I don’t care if it’s a raccoon, we don’t move animals long distances to try and resolve conflicts,” said Badry. “If it worked we would do it, but it doesn’t.”
Badry said the practice of relocation can be applied for species recovery, but even then the mortality is very high and the practice is not suitable for conflict management.
On the topic of a full-time CO in the Valley, Butler said that although he fully recognizes the importance and benefits of having a full-time CO in the Valley, but in the time of current staffing restraints it isn’t a reality yet.
He also stressed the importance of calling the RAPP Line, saying there were only 13 calls to the line last year in Hagensborg, 29 calls in Bella Coola (townsite and Four Mile). Calls to the RCMP were still trying to be determined, but numbers are expected to be high.
“It’s still important to call,” said Butler. “We have Steven Hodgson here, his position with problem wildlife is going to work. But we need the calls to come through those lines.”
You can call the RAPP Line 24-7 toll free at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).