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Tofino earns ‘Bear Smart’ community designation

Secure those picnic baskets West Coast, Tofino is making strides towards helping residents become smart enough to protect the average bear.
Tofino has been named a Bear Smart community by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

Secure those picnic baskets West Coast, Tofino is making strides towards helping residents become smart enough to protect the average bear.

The district is celebrating a significant wildlife achievement as the town was recently honoured with the designation of being a Bear Smart community by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

“Earning the Bear Smart Community status is an honour and is a testament to our community’s commitment to environmental stewardship and public safety,” said Tofino mayor Dan Law through a media release announcing the new designation. “WildsafeBC has been an invaluable partner in achieving this important step towards a healthy and respectful coexistence with local wildlife.”

The town caught ire back in 2021 when it was revealed that 13 bears had been killed in the West Coast region after becoming conditioned to unnatural food sources and shedding their fear of humans. That death-toll matched the 13 bears that were killed in the region in what was dubbed a “disastrous year for black bears” in 2019.

READ MORE: Bear deaths in Tofino-Ucluelet draw anger throughout province

Rather than pooh-pooh the subject, Tofino took a proactive approach and committed to making improvements to keep both bears and residents safe and the town worked with WildSafeBC Pacific Rim to decrease human-wildlife interactions.

Those efforts bore fruit as the count lowered to eight bears killed in 2022, although that improvement came with an alarming 35 reports of bears breaking into vehicles that year.

West Coast communities then celebrated a banner year in 2023 where no bears were killed due to unnatural food conditioning and that celebration is continuing into 2024 with Tofino being recognized as a Bear Smart community.

“This achievement highlights Tofino’s ongoing commitment to preventing human-bear conflicts, ensuring public safety, and promoting environmental stewardship and sustainability,” the announcement reads.

“The Bear Smart Community Program, administered by the British Columbia Conservation Officer Service, is a proactive conservation initiative encouraging communities, businesses, and individuals to reduce human-bear conflicts.”

In order to secure the Bear Smart recognition, the district had to meet specific criteria, including developing a bear-human conflict management plan, implementing an ongoing education program, developing and maintaining a bear-proof waste management system and enacting ‘bear smart’ bylaws.

“WildSafeBC will play a crucial role in educating the community about the new Wildlife Attractant bylaw, along with other conflict prevention measures,” the announcement reads.

“In 2024, the District of Tofino will provide WildSafeBC with approximately $18,000 in funding to support its initiatives. The District of Tofino’s designation as a Bear Smart Community is a significant milestone in its ongoing efforts to ensure a safe and sustainable environment for both residents and wildlife.”

The district leaped over its final hurdle by approving a Wildlife Attractant Bylaw in April of this year.

“The bylaw outlines the requirements for residents and businesses regarding the proper use and storage of wildlife-resistant containers. The bylaw also covers managing other attractants, such as fruit trees, bird feeders, and chicken coops,” the announcement reads.

The town’s municipal council and district office worked closely with the local WildSafeBC Pacific Rim chapter to clear each hurdle and WildSafeBC coordinator Bob Hansen was thrilled with the progress made.

“Today marks a milestone in our relationship between bears and people on this landscape that we will always share. The BC Bear Smart Community program provides a structured roadmap for continually striving to co-exist without conflict,” Hansen said. “There are many challenging requirements to be met to be acknowledged as a Bear Smart Community. The District of Tofino has taken years to accomplish these requirements, and they could only be realized through the collaboration of a broad network of committed partners and community leaders.”

The announcement lists 10 other Bear Smart communities in B.C. being: Kamloops, Squamish, Lions Bay, Whistler, Port Alberni, Naramata, New Denver, Coquitlam, Port Hardy, and Castlegar.

Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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