Conflicts between humans and wildlife have decreased in the Alberni Valley and on the West Coast this year, but there is still work to be done, according to WildSafe BC.
WildSafe coordinators were at an Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District board meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 25 to present their final numbers from 2020. WildSafeBC is a program created and delivered by the BC Conservation Foundation with the goal of reducing human-wildlife conflict through education prevention.
According to coordinator Amira Strain, in the Alberni Valley bear reports were down to 90 reports this year, compared to 275 in 2019. For cougars, reports were down to 29 this year from 57 in 2019.
Strain explained that these numbers are based on calls to the conservation service.
“Usually the majority of the stuff that gets called in is conflict-based,” she said.
The lower numbers, said Strain, could be attributed to a few different changes. Part of it may have been the “strong community response” to various education programs put on by WildSafe BC. It was also a wet spring, which meant that natural wild foods like berries were plentiful.
“So the bears stayed farther from our community for longer,” said Strain.
Despite the decrease in conflicts, Strain said the Alberni Valley still has “a very healthy population of black bears.”
Other regions have been reporting similar trends. Mandy Ross, the Bamfield coordinator for WildSafe, said 2020 was a “very quiet year” for wildlife conflicts.
Bob Hansen, WildSafe coordinator for the Pacific Rim region, said bear reports were also down on the West Coast, from 143 in 2019 to just 40 in 2020. However, there was also a rise in road deaths, with nine bears killed in collisions. Hansen said it’s “hard to say” if this is a trend.
“For our region, on average, we probably expect around four to five [road] deaths a year,” said Hansen. “This year we had one event that killed a sow and three cubs. That really upped our numbers in a single event. It was on a single-lane bridge in the dark, in the fog. Really unfortunate set of circumstances.”
WildSafe BC focuses on prevention education to avoid human and animal conflicts. This involves door-to-door canvassing, presentations to schools and garbage tagging.
“A lot of my focus was on community outreach to get the word out that WildSafe is in the Alberni Valley,” Strain said.
Last year, Port Alberni residents were outraged after 75 residents on a single garbage collection route received $100 fines for “failure to secure a container.” In 2020, said Strain, there were zero tickets issued, and she partially attributes this to WildSafe’s education campaign, and the focus on increasing awareness, rather than discipline.
“The number of bins left out the night before went down dramatically,” she said.
Now, WildSafe’s focus is on getting more people to report wildlife encounters to the conservation service or with the Wildlife Alert Reporting Program (WARP).
“Not just through Facebook, or whatnot,” said Strain. “Try to report them to the conservation service so that we can get the proper stats. A lot of the time, there are a number of stats we are missing because people aren’t reporting sightings or conflicts.”
With WARP, people can see what animals have been reported in their area and sign up for alerts about wildlife reports around their home. Visit WARP at warp.wildsafebc.com/warp or call the conservation service at 1-877-952-7277.