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Avoiding wildlife saves wildlife

WildSafe B.C. and conservation officers have plenty to teach about avoiding conflicts with wild animals such as bears, cougars and deer.
October 30, 2013 - 12:10 PM


THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Killing animals is the last thing conservation officers want to do after joining a service aimed at protecting the environment.

"None of our officers have ever liked that," Inspector Barb Leslie said.

In September, conservation officers had to shoot a deer near Vernon, suspected to have been hand-fed and raised to consider humans as part of its herd. Officers said people could be in danger if the antlered deer, known to rub up against children, became aggressive during mating season.

Conservation officers and programs like WildSafe B.C. try to educate the public on not hand-feeding wild animals and to avoid them at all times. The program also advises keeping backyards clean, keeping trash stored properly and to stop leaving attractants outside such as low hanging bird feeders. Even with education, there may be times when interaction is inevitible. 

Conversation officers come from many backgrounds but they joined the service because they care about the environment and the animals that live in it, Leslie said. She's in charge of operations for the Okanagan region for the Conservation Officer Service for the Ministry of the Environment and is based in Penticton.

Leslie said killing can be difficult but necessary if there is no other option to protect the public and property from wildlife.

"Sometimes our officers have to make the hard decision to euthanize," she said.

The odds of a bear or deer coming out alive from a confrontation with a conservation officer can depend on whether the animal leaves the area using harrassment techniques, how it was treated by people, how aggressive it might be or how determined it is to stick around.

Conservation officers often do not go out when a call comes in, biologist Mike Badry said. The B.C. government gets 50,000 wildlife complaints a year and has 79 field conservation officers and 19 supervisors.

Badry is the ministry wildlife conflicts prevention co-ordinator and he said if a bear damages crown land no one responds, because the animal is doing what it naturally does. Often times an anxious caller can be educated over the phone by WildSafe B.C. staff.

Officers that do go out have many options from giving advice to homeowners, starting an investigation, possibly finding why the animal was in the area, or facing the animal directly if it's still present.

"Most commonly, if there is an animal, and it is a threat to the public, that animal will be put down," Badry said, but that's a last resort. An officer will study the animal, its behaviour and attempt other means to make it leave.

He explained relocating the animal is rarely successful as it might find its way back or be worse off wherever it's located. Instead, officers will haze the wild animal through noise-makers, spray or shooting non-lethal bean-bag rounds into its hide. Badry wants the animal to associate the area and people with pain and discomfort and hopefully stay away but that might not happen.

"You cannot teach an animal not to come back to a food source," he said. "That's why we put most of our emphasis on conflict reduction. You've got to stop that from happening."

Leslie said conservation officers killed a bear that kept returning to a Costco store in Kelowna. The animal was relocated but the bruin returned and had to be put down.

Those concerned over wild animals can call the conservation officer hotline at 1-877-952-7277 or post on WildSafe B.C.

To contact a reporter for this story, to send photos or videos, email Shannon Quesnel at squesnel@infotelnews.ca, call 250-488-3065, tweet @shannonquesnel1 or @InfoNewsPentict

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