This year’s tragic death toll of West Coast black bears due to unsecured attractants has caught the attention and ire of British Columbians who share a soft spot for the region.
During Nov. 23’s regular meeting, Tofino’s municipal council received a relatively whopping nine letters from people living outside the community all decrying the number of bears killed and demanding action be taken to prevent more deaths.
“This news is extremely disturbing to tourists (such as myself and my family) and residents who love your communities and value the wildlife. Many who travel to Tofino and Ucluelet are conservationists, nature lovers, and photographers who expect BC’s wildlife to be protected with robust education programs and enforced attractant bylaws for residents and visitors,” a letter from Vancouver resident Holly Reisner read, in part.
“Many communities have experienced significant success in preventing unnecessary deaths of bears and other wildlife with education programs (often delivered by volunteer community groups) and with enhanced attractant bylaws that are enforced by municipal bylaw staff.”
Council received the letters during their Nov. 23 meeting with little discussion, though mayor Dan Law suggested the district’s bylaw department is working on solutions to prevent the tragedies from becoming a new normal.
“Council is very aware of bear deaths and so is staff and we’ll be interested to hear what staff brings forward in the near future for dealing with wildlife attractants,” Law said.
Thirteen bears have been killed around Tofino and Ucluelet so far this year and WildSafeBC Pacific Rim coordinator Bob Hansen is helping both districts draft wildlife attractant management bylaws that he hopes will bring consistent and clear messaging to West Coast residents and visitors.
“I know that there’s a very high level of concern in the leadership of both districts and a strong commitment to really take action and to change things for 2022 and the years to come,” he said. “It’s really bringing together and coalescing many initiatives and a lot of intentions to do better.”
He noted similar bylaws are in place in other communities like Squamish, Gibsons and Lilooet.
“They’re well-tested, effective, robust bylaws,” he said.
He said the towns’ current waste management bylaws include “broad requirements in terms of managing waste,” but clearer language is needed to facilitate enforcement.
“Having that very specific wording provides a very clear tool for bylaw services and it also provides clear direction to anyone reading the bylaw that there’s no ambiguity there,” he said.
He added the bylaws are still being drafted so specific mandates aren’t set in stone, though bear resistant commercial bins and keeping residential garbage secured would likely make the list.
He said 2021’s black bear deaths were driven by bears being drawn into the communities and finding unnatural and unsecured food sources, like garbage, and that a significant spike in deaths began occurring after travel restrictions were lifted in July.
“We saw visitation very quickly increase and an incredible volume of garbage and recycling really strained the capacity to deal with that,” he said.
He added he received over 50 reports of property damage.
“That represents thousands of dollars of physical damage, but beyond that it also represents a lot of stress and anxiety for the people in those situations and also concern and the other side of it, seeing the toll that causes in terms of bears,” he said. “The West Coast communities are really acutely aware now, from all of the media coverage and from personal experiences this year, of the realities and consequences around co-existing with bears…It’s sad that it takes this kind of series of events to really create that resolve to take the actions needed and it takes the efforts of many.”
He said the reports this year “galvanized” the efforts of community leaders and local groups and he’s been fielding daily enquiries from residents interested in purchasing certified bear resistant garbage and recycling containers.
“They’ve learned through hard experience that plastic, wooden and even metal sheds are no match for a determined bear,” he said.
He added he’s helped install 14 electric fences this year and the WildBC business pledge program that launched on the West Coast this year has six businesses signed up right now with one nearing completion of the criteria and added local campgrounds have increased participation in the Bare Campsite Program.
“A lot of troubling things have gone on but there’s also been a really strong response,” he said. “There’s a lot of really good efforts underway…There’s a lot of positives going on and good forward momentum for the way ahead and for actions that are definitely going to help break this cycle.”
The local WildSafeBC program will wrap up in December and Hansen said he is working on securing funding to bring it back to the communities next spring.