KEEPING BEARS WILD AND HUMANS SAFE IS PRIORITY #1
Educating the public on how to live harmoniously with Sooke’s wild life is the guiding principle of a new organization launched by former WildSafe BC regional coordinator Debb Read and Nitya Harris of Vancouver Island’s Coexisting with Carnivores Alliance. It will operate under the auspices of the Sooke Transition Town Society.
Wild Wise Sooke will initially and primarily focus on bear management as Read continues a highly effective campaign she began in 2012. Sooke is statistically one of the Canada’s leading hotspots for black bears. Problems arise as bears become habituated to dining on garbage rather than berries and roots. In turn, this creates safety issues and, in increasingly rare instances, fatal consequences for the bears.
The good news: Read’s efforts have decreased the number of local complaints to conservation services by 40 percent (down to 278 calls last spring and summer). Better still, only four bears needed to be destroyed last year in the District of Sooke compared to 16 in 2013.
Sooke is now ready for its own community wildlife education program directed by a founding working group that features Read, Harris, the District of Sooke’s Laura Byrne, the EMCS Society’s Ebony Logins, Transition Sooke’s Jeff Bateman and the Chamber of Commerce’s Travis Butler. The RCMP’s Jeff McArthur and Conservation Officers Peter Pauwels and Richard DeKelver are part of the advisory team.
“Ongoing public education is essential or the progress we’ve made will be lost,” explains Read. “The vast majority of people get it, but there are still folks out there who either store their garbage outside or keep it in the garage but put it out the night before pick-up. Other people leave pet food outside, keep their bird feeders full during the summer or are careless with their compost. All this is pure bear bait and it’s guaranteed to increase the chance of dangerous interactions between the bears and us.”
Sooke residents who spot a bear in their neighbourhood should immediately call the Ministry of Environment’s RAPP line at 1-800-663-WILD. In most cases, the creature will be rambling through on its way elsewhere, however the call allows conservation staff to track the local bear population. If the problem persists, Read makes a personal visit to explore the root causes and offer bear-wise remedies.
“Once a bear starts equating humans with food, they lose their natural wariness and become what is called ‘human-habituated,'” she explains. “They then learn to tolerate us in much closer proximity than what is safe for both bears and humans. My best advise to homeowners is to take a careful look around their property, figure out what’s attracting the bears and then take remedial steps.”
Wild Wise Sooke is a good fit for Transition Sooke, says Bateman, its president. “One key aspect of the Transition Town philosophy is the ‘inner transition,’ and Debb is working hard to change the way we respect and interact with all forms of life in the region. Since 90 percent of bear problems arise from garbage issues, the new group can partner up on projects with the new Zero Waste Sooke initiative. Best of all, Debb and Nitya are remarkably competent, caring and capable individuals with a plan and the energy to make it happen. The bears and all our wild things are fortunate to have them.”
The new organization is seeking volunteers, donors and partnerships with local non-profits, businesses and funding bodies. In time, the educational focus will turn to cougars, raccoons, deer and other local inhabitants. For further information, please contact Debb Read at firstname.lastname@example.org.