Just over a week after six food-conditioned bears were killed in West Kelowna, the lakeside community of Naramata is doing things differently and it’s paying off.
On Thursday morning, the town was once again recognized by the province as a “bear smart” community for its work over the past five years to stop bears from getting into people’s garbage.
“Before this program, we were destroying between six and seven bears annually in the hamlet of Naramata, and that was just unacceptable to the community,” said Zoë Kirk, a wildsafe BC community coordinator.
“What we’ve seen with the concentrated efforts of changing bylaws so people are restricted to putting their garbage out only on the morning of pick up day, unless it’s in a bear proof container and doing a lot of education, we have only destroyed two bears in the past five years.”
In addition to fewer bears being killed, she said calls about bears rummaging through people’s garbage in the community has also dropped from around 100 a year to five or six.
She credited the use of 100 bear-resistant garbage carts being used by residents in high-risk neighbourhoods, as well as education for helping to reduce the amount of human-wildlife conflict in the hamlet.
Mike Badry, a wildlife conservation officer who is responsible for the province’s wildlife-human conflict prevention strategy, said Naramata is one of eight “bear smart” communities in the province.
“A bear smart community outlines six criteria that we ask communities to attain in order to be ‘bear smart’ and they are one of eight communities that has successfully completed those six criteria,” said Badry.
Among the six criterion, he said Narmata has done a great job managing its waste to make sure garbage isn’t accessible to bears.
“In every community you look at, garbage is the number one attract that really brings bears in and causes conflict, and they’ve managed that really well,” said Badry, adding the hamlet has also implemented bylaws to ensure compliance.
He said the province receives nearly 18,000 calls about bears every year and is forced to kill between 400 and 450 bears on average because they become a public safety concern.
“When bears need to be killed due to conflict, it’s because they’ve become what we call food-conditioned, so they’ve been getting access to non-natural food sources and they’ve learned to make the connection that people equal food and that is when it becomes very dangerous,” said Badry.
Despite those startling numbers, he said more and more communities are recognizing the problem and are implementing rules to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.
“Those numbers, although still way too high, are actually coming down,” said Badry. “When you look at the last 20 years, we’ve been destroying fewer bears.”
While Naramata might be the only community in the Okanagan that is considered “bear smart,” other communities are beginning to take notice.
In the fall, the community of Lake Country launched a pilot project to test 15 bear-resistant garbage carts and Summerland has also signalled its interest in the program.
Kirk said she was excited to see other communities take the issue seriously and encouraged them to get involved.
“Take simple small steps, that’s what we did in the beginning,” said Kirk. “By simply taking care of your garbage you’re going to reduce your conflict with wildlife.”