You might be wondering who is paying the consequences for not managing attractants as the number of BC black bears destroyed this year continues to soar.
It turns out… not so many at all.
One animal advocacy group wanted to know and filed for a Freedom Of Information (FOI) request to find out just how many residents are being ticketed by BC’s Conservation Officer Service for leaving out food and other items that are attractive to bears — habituating them to garbage — and humans.
The FOI does not include enforcement information from municipalities.
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The Fur-Bearers asked for two things from the COS: The number of ‘Dangerous Wildlife Protection Orders’ issued, which is when the it orders you to clean up attractants on your property, an offence that is fine-able, and tickets issued for ‘Attracting Dangerous Wildlife,’ which you can get on the spot.
The COS does issue “warnings,” however, those numbers were not requested.
The Fur-Bearers Executive Director, Lesley Fox, told Daily Hive Vancouver she was surprised to see “the numbers were so low for both orders and actual fines.”
The FOI reveals from January to June 10, 2019, the BC Conservation Officer Service issued only 33 Dangerous Wildlife Protection Orders, and 12 tickets and fines.
April is when the COS started documenting the 2019 black bear stats. April and May’s numbers combined saw 113 black bears destroyed by conservation officers.
“We really expected the COS to be doing more, we expected those numbers to be much higher,” Fox said.
“I’m really shocked,” said Fox.
Fox said it appears the COS “is not taking advantage of the non-lethal tools that are available to them and we certainly know that education without enforcement is meaningless.”
Fox said the numbers in the FOI are telling her conservation officers are “not interested in issuing orders, or tickets — and I find that absolutely astounding.”
“If I were a conservation officer, I would be actively issuing orders and tickets — and behind every dead bear, there would be a pile up of fines and orders. The killing of these animals needs to be the absolute last result and those responsible for putting their garbage out need to be held accountable,” otherwise Fox said “bears are going to be killed.”
Calling the FOI a “snapshot” of a specific period of time, Fox said “if these numbers are any indication of what it looks like for the rest of the year,” she thinks, “the COS is in big trouble — I think that public trust is quickly eroding.”
Fox said that the people pulling the trigger “aren’t doing their due diligence in that it would appear there’s a gratuitous use of force,” Fox said, “nothing is adding up and it’s making people frustrated.”
Fox credits the COS for working with other programs to educate people about attractants, “but it’s the enforcement that’s missing,” and she believes people will continue to leave attractants out — leading to more bears killed.
Fox wants to see one of two moves: municipalities provided with more tools and support by the Province, or allowing municipalities to make bylaws related to wildlife issues appropriate for their community.
Killing wildlife is the last thing conservation officers want to do
COS Spokesperson Murray Smith said conservation officers need people to adjust their habits — it’s the only fool-proof solution.
“Conservation officers… they have no interest in destroying wildlife — that’s the last thing they want to do,” Smith said.
“We would much rather issue a fine to someone and make sure that they adjust their behaviour long term in the public if they have attractants.”
“It’s up to the public to make adjustments,” Smith said, so wild animals don’t get food conditioned in communities — that means keeping areas clear of garbage and fruit.
The Lower Mainland, where majority of calls come in from, Smith said is, “an urban area that’s unlike anywhere in the world, there’s nowhere else in the world where we have this many people put,” in the middle of the “best bear habitat in the world.”
“We can haze bears with you know rubber bullets and bean bags and we can bring in Karelian Bear dogs, we can try all kinds of things, but they’re not going to be everywhere all the time,” Smith said.
Smith said the ministry takes a few approaches when it comes to dealing with attractants: education, compliance, enforcement, and dealing with public safety.
Smith said that the COS works with other non-governmental programs in efforts to educate the public.
When it comes to public safety around dangerous wildlife, Smith said the COS is the one with the skill and expertise to respond in that area, “we focus on the public safety aspect, and we refer and we partner and coordinate with our municipal partners to do the compliance and enforcement aspect because they can do that, but they can’t do the public safety piece.”
Smith said there’s already a plan for action going into the fall, “on this attractant issue.”
“We’re going to be more proactive in that aspect,” Smith said, and this will be on top of their existing duties — and working with partners to do so.
Smith said fall is an especially important time to focus on attractants because that’s when bears become more active as they prepare for hibernation,”and they’re in a mad search for food.”
He said conservation officers ensure that they’ve looked at every option before they make a decision to euthanize a black bear, “but at the end of the day, we have to make sure the public is safe.”
If you leave out attractants, Smith warns you’ll be charged and there will be enforcement action — fines are $575 and tickets are $345, and there is always the chance you can be sent to court.