By V. Victoria Shroff
Every year in B.C., bears are destroyed due to interspecies conflicts with humans living in the same community. According to the Fur-Bearers, a B.C. advocacy group, in Coquitlam alone, there have been more than 1,000 bear reports this season with eight bears being destroyed while others were relocated.
In my view, the source of the problem is largely two-fold. The first is that bears love to eat human garbage. The second is bear education for humans. People need to take the lead in this interspecies conflict and be smart around bears.
If we address the garbage issue at a householder level, we will see less conflict with bears. Aside from the intrinsic worth of bears, what would Canada be on the world stage without its bears? Nature and wildlife collectively define our country and we need to actively preserve it. As an long-term animal law lawyer dealing with all species of animals, I have to say, let's not forget the law piece. Under the British Columbia Wildlife Act it's an offence to feed dangerous wildlife, including bears, or to disobey orders to remove and clean up food, food waste, or other substances that can attract dangerous wildlife to their premises.
There is a section on attracting dangerous wildlife that states (1) A person must not (a) intentionally feed or attempt to feed dangerous wildlife, or (b) provide, leave or place an attractant in, on or about any land or premises with the intent of attracting dangerous wildlife.
Most municipalities have strict guidelines for household garbage and fines in place for noncompliance. Makes sense. Householders should not be providing picnics for bears. The picnic could end up being their final meal.
If householders don't comply, they should be heavily fined and also re-educated as to what to do with their garbage. A quick perusal of municipal websites shows that bear awareness practices are neatly set out. It's a question of people better informing themselves.
I believe this will go a long way to reducing human animal conflict and bear killings. Education is the cornerstone to help citizens to co-exist with bears so that killings are only done in the rarest of circumstances. Whenever I get wildlife consultation calls to my Vancouver animal law practice, aside from figuring out the law, we always talk about education.
A short while ago, a controversy arose in B.C. when three people were arrested for allegedly trying to obstruct the work of conservation officers who were tracking bears habituated to eating human garbage. The RCMP stated that the officers were attempting to herd a mother bear and two cubs when private citizens stepped between them and the bears.
In the end, the bears were killed. Since then, I have heard from my animal law students and clients who say that they would not call in the conservation officers if they see a bear sighting as the bear would be killed due to the unchecked power of the conservation officers.
The killing of three bears highlighted the issue that conservation officers have too much power and need to have a third-party overseeing operations to ensure that conservation is paramount instead of, as many would say, needless bear killings.
There's a new petition circulating in B.C. to bring in bear dogs to help address the problems with bears in urban environments. It's inspired by the Washington Departmental of Fish and Wildlife which, since 2003, has had a successful Karelian bear program. Bear dogs from Finland have quick reflexes and fearless natures and could help in B.C. by finding and then holding bears for a long time. This, this could assist in relocation efforts instead of having bears shot. Sounds like a plan.