Black bears broke into an alarming 35 vehicles between Tofino and Ucluelet this year and eight bears were killed after becoming food-conditioned past the point of no return.
Local WildSafeBC coordinators Bob Hansen and Marianne Paquette presented to Tofino’s municipal council at Nov. 24’s regular council meeting, providing an update on the program’s efforts this year and mapping out the road ahead for keeping wildlife wild and communities safe.
Along with the 35 vehicle break-ins, Hansen said bears broke into 35 sheds, 21 commercial waste bins, eight outdoor freezers, eight chicken coops and four commercial grease bins.
He said there were 51 close encounters between people and bears and seven cases where a bear entered a residence with people inside.
He added that the WildSafeBC team recently conducted a survey of commercial bins “when it became evident how significant an issue this was” and that 48 per cent of the 93 bins surveyed were not secured.
Paquette spoke to the program’s public engagement in 2022, which included six wildlife ranger presentations at schools, reaching 190 students and teachers as well as 18 wildlife awareness and safety presentations reaching 280 participants and eight display booths that reached over 1,050 people.
She added that five door-to-door activities were conducted in neighbourhoods experiencing high wildlife activity where information packages were delivered to 370 residences.
She said five local businesses achieved WildSafeBC Business Pledge and nine more are working towards it. Two local campgrounds committed to the Bare Campsite Pledge.
She added 14 electric fences were installed through the program this year and 18 new bear resistant bins were purchased.
Hansen noted Tofino’s work towards adopting a new wildlife attractant bylaw and said it would be a significant milestone on the path to co-existence.
“That really addresses a significant gap in our efforts to co-exist with wildlife,” he said.
He suggested Tofino should also consider including waste management requirements in business licence applications as well as development permits.
He also urged council to apply for Bear Smart status for Tofino.
“With the passing of the bylaw and all of the other things that have happened in the past year, all of the requirements for Bear Smart status have been met by the district of Tofino,” he said.
He said WildSafeBC is working with the district offices in both Tofino and Ucluelet as well as each community’s destination marketing organizations to expand the wildlife information being delivered to residents and visitors.
He said the local program is also hoping to secure multi-year funding commitments from both districts to increase the program’s capacity and scope.
“We’d really like to build on the momentum that’s been built up over the last five seasons,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster asked about the reception Hansen and Paquette received from local businesses when they reached out during their survey.
Paquette said the WildSafeBC team meets with local businesses to see if they’re interested in taking the pledge and conducts an initial walkthrough, pointing out areas in need of improvement to keep wildlife wild and communities safe.
“We give them a full report with all the information they need,” she said. “Then we provide them with ongoing support.”
Hansen added staff training is a key part of the pledge.
“That’s part of an ongoing relationship over time,” he said. “Even though they may have achieved all of the requirements, we’ll continue to train their staff as time goes on so our relationship continues past meeting all those requirements.”
McMaster asked if they’d encountered any resistance from businesses and Hansen responded that it sometimes takes significant events, like a bear accessing a business, before interest booms.
“At times, there’s immediate interest and off we go and then there’s other instances where there’s some interest and there’s a passage of time and then a whole series of incidents that increase the interest,” he said.
“That’s sort of the pattern we see. Sometimes there are significant events that happen that are motivating.”
He added the new bylaw would help further motivate residents and businesses to follow WildSafeBC’s guidelines.
“There are very specific requirements that relate to businesses and residents within that (bylaw) and those weren’t there previously,” he said.
Coun. Tom Stere asked what the long-term funding requirement might look like to expand the program, but Hansen responded it was too early to put a specific dollar figure on that work.
“There’s various things to talk about there in terms of what would be a reasonable request, balanced with what we hope to be able to achieve,” Hansen said.