It’s time for Lake Cowichan to take bears seriously, Todd Carnahan of WildSafe BC says.
“We’re here today to offer a solution to some of the emerging issues that Cowichan Lake faces…primarily bears getting into trash,” Carnahan, a conservation biologist who has worked for 20 years on the Vancouver Island coast said. “That’s my main focus because that’s 90 per cent of the issues that you’re facing here in Lake Cowichan.”
WildSafe BC [which used to be called Bear Aware] is one program of a suite of programs offered by the British Columbia Conservation Foundation, which also works on wildlife collision prevention.
The BCCF aims to reduce unnecessary calls and emergency type work that conservation officers are required to do “when we let bears down and allow them to become conditioned to [finding easily available food] on our properties.”
“Bears are getting shot because they are attracted into our backyards,” he said. “It’s also a threat to public safety. Our children and our pets are at risk and we also have property damage occurring at a greater rate because bears are getting lured onto our properties.”
Carnahan said he also wants to educate the community so they are “aware of what it means to be a respectful citizen here in bear habitat so that the bears stay safe and that we stay safe.”
Joining WildSafe BC is not a great outlay of cash initially.
“We’re simply interested in establishing a dialogue in hot spot areas like Lake Cowichan so we can focus on getting our resources out there so the Conservation Officer Service can do their jobs.”
The bear problem in the Cowichan Lake area is entrenched, he said, explaining that conservation officers, like Sgt. Scott Norris, who accompanied him to the meeting, can speak of their own experiences.
There is also a wildlife alert reporting program, a database where conservation officers can report in, and where the public can see what’s happening.
“Then we can see that’s a hotspot area, lots of calls clustered there. And I can assure you that Lake Cowichan is one of the hotspot areas of the Cowichan Valley.”
Bears are becoming habituated and once they reach that stage, they have to be destroyed.
“It’s really an 11th-hour situation that we’re in in the Cowichan Valley. Many of us remember in the 1970s going to the dump at night to see the bears. You don’t see bears in dumps anymore but I’m going to tell you that we have bears across the region getting into trash today. It’s the same situation, it’s just more spread out.”
It’s possible for council to connect with the database and get emails with information sent directly to the town, Carnahan said.
People who live in towns like Lake Cowichan have to realize that having what they think is a bear-proof garbage can or owning a dog is not enough to keep bears away from their properties, he said, pointing out that not all garbage cans are bear-proof and many dogs go inside at night.
Norris said that bears are going to be around an area like Lake Cowichan.
“We can coexist with them around but what we don’t want is for them to get habituated to the garbage. It can put our children at risk. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a call about a bear in a school yard. That is one of our higher priority levels: if a bear is in a school yard, we’re going there, despite whatever else we may be doing.”
The CVRD and Ladysmith are already on board with WildSafe, he said.
“It really, really does help get the message out. We pass on the message to Todd, saying, here’s a hotspot community. Please go over there, put stickers on garbage cans, knock on people’s doors, so we don’t have to shoot a bear. I didn’t get into this job to shoot bears. I want to protect bears. I absolutely hate to go home and tell my seven-year-old that I shot a bear. That is not a good day for me.”
He said the conservation service gets 100 calls a year from Lake Cowichan alone about “problem wildlife”.
Carnahan said that thoughtless, and sometimes even foolish behaviour by people is not helping.
Social media posts showing people feeding bears at their homes or campsites are going viral and this is sparking a wave of copycats, which is a troubling trend, he said, urging council to step up and help keep the Lake’s local wildlife safe.