Why the Okanagan is on the naughty list for Conservation Officers | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why the Okanagan is on the naughty list for Conservation Officers

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Venkat Geebu
December 26, 2019 - 8:00 AM

The B.C. Conservation Officer Service recently conducted a provincewide bear attractant audit that resulted in 732 enforcement actions.

After patrolling neighbourhoods and other areas to ensure attractants were properly secured by using bear-proof bins, excess fruit had been picked from trees and electric fencing was used around livestock. The audits resulted in:

• 704 inspections throughout the province;
• 76 charges;
• 301 warnings; and
• 355 Dangerous Wildlife Protection Orders, which direct a property owner to remove an attractant or face a $575 fine.

One of the most high profile examples of this was in the Okanagan.

A West Kelowna business that failed to keep its garbage locked up was fined after contributing to the habituation of six bears that had to be destroyed.

"These bears were a significant public safety concern. We have a witness who was charged twice, we have a bear who was up on a balcony going through recycling and a bear pushing on a window," Sgt. Jeff Hanratty of the Conservation Office Service said at the time.  "For public safety, they had to be destroyed."

The business was charged under the Wildlife Act, section 33.1 (2) for not managing attractants. Two separate wildlife protection orders have also been issued.

"It’s important that we stop this. This was a preventable instance and we want to let people know it’s preventable," he said. "It’s not a pleasant part of what we have to do and have to stop it and change the way we are managing attractants. Bears have a nose better than a bloodhound and are slaves to their biology. Their biological directive to put on fat so they can hibernate and we bait them into the community, train them to overcome their fear and then we destroy them. That’s not on."

The audits began in summer 2019 and ramped up in September and October when bears forage for food to prepare for winter.

The first phase focused on residential, recreational and commercial areas, particularly those with a history of bear conflicts. Conservation officers also focused on communities where unsecured attractants, such as garbage, pet food, birdseed and compost, had led to issues with bears.
Hundreds of hours were spent educating the public about the importance of managing attractants, which is the best way to prevent wildlife conflicts.

The second phase of attractant audits will take place in the spring when bears wake up and search for food.

Doug Forsdick, chief conservation officer for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said, in a press release, that public safety is paramount.

“The conservation officer service cannot stress enough that the best way to keep people safe and bears from being destroyed is to secure attractants around your home, business or campsite. The conservation officer service hopes that through these attractant audits, the public will recognize that more needs to be done to ensure everyone does their part to help keep wildlife wild. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to ensure their attractants are properly managed.”

Too many bears and other wildlife are destroyed because their natural behaviour has been altered due to easy access to non-natural food sources like garbage. Habituated bears lose their fear of people and gain appetites for non-natural food, putting both themselves and communities at risk.

Relocated wildlife often fail to adapt to their new habitat. As a result, they make long-distance movements, starve, or return to their original area or another community in search of easy food.

The ministry and COS are determined to significantly reduce the role of attractants through both education and, where necessary, strengthened enforcement measures.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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