At some point

Behest of the West: We are the solution to our bear problem

Let’s get back to being the community we’ve proven we can be.

We killed a bear again. That’s upsetting.

It’s become something we do and it doesn’t bring the same outrage it used to. That’s concerning.

We’ve nestled into the brink of being a disappointment before and reversed course. That’s encouraging.

When news broke that a bear had been shot in Ucluelet last week, the layers of upset were predictable. They’re layers that have become traditional.

There is always a crowd that shoots misguided outrage towards the conservation officers who set the trap and pulled the trigger. That outrage is not only nonsense, it’s dangerous. CO’s hate shooting animals. It’s a career path based on a commitment to helping humans coexist with wildlife. If we call them early enough, the moment we spot a bear getting into garbage or other unnatural food sources, they will work tirelessly to rehabilitate that animal and point it back towards its natural habitat. The folks who repeatedly and vehemently flood the internet with ignorant comments that suggest calling the CO means an animal will get shot, perpetuate and spread a myth that prevents animals from potentially being saved.

It’s inexplicable that we still see those comments pop up every time we kill an animal. It’s a rumour that’s been baseless since its inception and the fact it’s believed is perilous to our bears’ lives. It was frustrating to see that falsehood pop up again last week and it’s disappointing that it pops up every time.

It’s also frustrating that blame on the West Coast is immediately pointed away from locals. The fact that this happened in October meant the fingers normally reserved for tourists were pointed at new residents. Locals, this pushed-perception prescribes, know better. It’s a belief based on balderdash; an anecdotal illusion. Locals have been killing bears since at least 1977; that’s as far back as this newspaper’s archives go.

In July of that year, the Westcoaster reported five bears had been shot. The Conservation Officer quoted in the story, Don Campbell, offered the same refrain that’s been repeated so often since. The bears had become accustomed to eating garbage, they’d lost their fear of humans and were starting to act aggressively to protect their newfound food source. That aggression is often hard to conceptualize for those of us who have seen the chubby animals bumbling, heavy footed, across a road or adorably noshing on berries within the Pacific Rim National Park. They’re much more cute than terrifying but we have to respect what they can do. Black bear attacks are rare—A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management suggested 63 people were killed by black bears between 1900-2009—but they aren’t non-existent. Ucluelet RCMP sergeant Left Nelson told the Westcoaster in 1977, “I would rather shoot the bears than have a kid mauled.”

Neither of those needs to be an option. Black bears pose no threat to us unless we make them a threat to us. Stop yelling at conservation officers for doing a job we force them to do. Stop pointing blame everywhere other than at us. Start securing your garbage until the morning of pickup. Start keeping your barbecues clean. Start honking at any bears you see in town. If you truly believe newcomers are to blame, start being part of the solution by educating those around you on attractant management.

We can do this. We’ve done it before.

Back in the mid-2000’s, thanks to BearAware and solid municipal leadership, Ucluelet became a shining example of how a community can coexist with wildlife. We’re starting to become a disappointment. Let’s get back to being the community we’ve proven we can be.