Crystal McMillan believes Ucluelet needs to brush up on its bear awareness.
The former Ucluelet local who launched the West Coast Bear Aware committee in 2004 and helped create Ucluelet’s Human-Bear Conflict Management Plan in 2006—the same year she received Ucluelet’s Citizen of the year Award—plans to pitch a bear stewardship program in Ucluelet.
McMillan told the Westerly News she has reached out to Ucluelet’s municipal council to present her plan to launch a volunteer group that would help educate locals on wildlife management.
“Ucluelet is in a really good place to move forward, they just need some assistance right now to get up to where is the next step kind of place,” she said. “I don’t think they understand where the next step is.”
McMillan, now based in Parksville, is the founder and Executive Director of Bear Smart B.C. and works with the Conservation Officer Service and community leaders to minimize human wildlife conflicts.
She said Ucluelet has solid bylaws in place to prevent attractants, like garbage, from being left out but the recent euthanization of a bear that had become addicted to garbage is evidence these bylaws might be slipping out of local minds.
“The municipality has to consistently reach out to its constituents to let them know that they’re expected to live a certain way in the community to maintain public safety and to not destroy wildlife,” she said. “If there isn’t that consistent public education delivery, then it kind of falls off the wagon a little bit.”
She said striking a volunteer committee would help raise and maintain awareness.
“It takes a whole community to make change. I am a big proponent of the bear smart program being built from the grassroots of the community,” she said. “We need to have a community stewardship program going on…You need to have a volunteer group to help with getting out to the local residents.”
She added it’s important to start spreading this information quickly.
“We are moving into the fall and bears are looking to fatten up in a big way. More bears are going to come into the community,” she said.
“Every single property owner is the first wildlife manager. Everything after that is reactive. If you have a bear coming onto your property and it’s gained access to any kind of human attractant, we’ve already started that negative cascade of food conditioning and human habituated behaviour.”
She added fines should start being handed to those who fail to secure their attractants.
“I think the education piece has to come first. The community has to decide how many warnings there are and then, after that, there has to be some sort of fine system,” she said.