Just eight years ago, a natural food shortage and a subsequent rise in the number of human-bear conflicts resulted in the destruction of 27 black bears in the Squamish area in 2004 alone. That was the impetus for the District of Squamish to work with Carney’s Waste Services and provincial partners to launch its Bear Aware/Bear Smart Program.
Today, the fact that Squamish was just the second community in B.C. (after Kamloops) to have achieved official Bear Smart Community status is the source of considerable community pride, and rightly so.
So when conservation officers shoot and kill three bears in our area in a little over a week after the animals exhibited aggressive behaviour toward people (see story on page A3), it’s cause for concern and yes, even a small measure of wounded pride. Conservation officers tell us that humans’ mismanagement of garbage and other human food sources was responsible for two of those situations. In one of those, it appears that campers’ negligence was to blame for the bear’s habituation and, ultimately, its death.
Therein lies part of the problem — one that’s symptomatic of towns that rely to one degree or another on tourism. For years, those working to make Whistler more bear smart have been challenged by the need to educate not only the longtime locals but also short-term seasonal staff and tourists about keeping attractants away from bears. As Squamish becomes more of a tourist town — and despite the need to attract other industries as well, we hope it does — there will be an increasing need to reach the visitors as well as the locals with “bear smart” education programs.
This week’s news will likely cause some to blame the officers for acting hastily or capriciously in deciding to shoot the bears. While that characterization may have carried some validity in decades past, these days B.C.’s conservation officers are far better educated about the need to conserve while protecting the public. Certainly they still make mistakes, but sometimes their job places them in the unenviable position of making decisions on the spot.
Relocation of animals is a strategy whose effectiveness has been shown to be limited. Whether they’re right or wrong in a given instance, this writer, for one, trusts that officers don’t take those decisions lightly and are using their best judgment when weighing their responsibility to conserve against the all-important duty of protecting public safety.
— David Burke