Conflicts between humans and bears continue to present a growing problem on the North Island, the root cause of that conflict often being insecure human food and garbage.
It’s usually the same offenders that have a lackadaisical attitude towards this issue, and comments such as: “There’s not an issue with bear populations here, so what if a few bears get shot.” I could say the same about humans. Education has been around for a few decades surrounding the issue of garbage habituated bears, it’s time the hammer is used to deal with offenders.
This past week the B.C. government gave the Wildlife Act teeth that would allow communities and authorities to issue $240 fines against those who fail to follow proper waste disposal practices.
At last years fall fair, 74 per cent of North Islanders surveyed by Bear Smart BC Society support offenders being ticketed, so will North Island communities follow through in punishing offenders?
In Port Hardy they’ve been striving towards earning Bear Smart Community Status by the B.C. Ministry of Environment.
Such status is positive for visitors coming to our region, and there could be some financial rewards, as the province looks at communities that have signed on to being carbon neutral, OCP’s with a vision, and provincial certification such as Bear Smart, which will assist in putting us at the head of the line for various grants and funding projects.
There’s another issue that may come into play — liability. To date we’ve been lucky on the North Island as we’ve not had a serious mauling or death caused by a habituated bear. Every year in B.C. you read about individuals being mauled by human fed habituated bears, sooner or later it will occur here if we don’t clean up our act. The stats on bear calls over the last sixyears reflect that bears know they can get an easy meal in certain North Island communities.
Bear calls over the past six years, starting in 2006 and ending 2011 (as of Nov. 17).
Port Hardy: 179-277-225-68-117-302
Port McNeill: 50-50-332-28-43-415
Port Alice: 44-32-82-38-13-43
As you can see by the stats, there are dips; usually this is where COs have dealt with aggressive bears, but the void they leave will be filled by other bears that will most likely become habituated because of our indifference to the issue.
We need to be aware of local businesses and residents that continue to leave garbage unnsecured, for they may be putting bears at risk and, just as importantly, members of your family. You need to inform the authorities and document the incidents in case any member of your community is mauled or killed by a habituated bear. There may be recourse going after the individuals in the court system. Sadly this may be the only way to get the message through.
Being Bear Smart is good for bears, good for people, good for community image, a potential bonus in applying for certain grants and funding, and allows our conservation Officers to deal with bigger environmental issues that concern our communities.