Behest of the West: We need to reach the other side

I drive between Tofino and Ucluelet often and I’ve never seen anything that tells me a fed bear is a dead bear.

I took Andrew Jr. to Thornton Creek Hatchery’s release day on May 22 and I’m not sure which one of us loved it more.

It’s a phenomenal event where local kids have a blast without realizing how much they’re learning.

Dave Hurwitz is an infinitely patient educator for our kids and his wisdom infusing ninja powers were on full diplay. He somehow explained to two-year-old Jr. why touching baby fish is dirty pool and Jr. not only became convinced not to reach into his bucket, he earned the confidence to explain to me that  fish need slime and our hands are bad for that.

On the drive home, Jr. explained what we had done. ‘We took the babies out of the tank and put them in the ocean. Then they get big and we catch them.’

Which, pretty much nails it. Raising kids on the West Coast means raising kids who know what they’re talking about. He’s as blessed to be growing up here as I am to be raising him here.

Getting to the hatchery and back though meant driving on the highway during a long weekend. If you spent any time in a vehicle this past weekend, and you’re not reading this in jail, then congratulations for keeping a cool head in the face of overwhelming adversity. The calm before the storm is over; we’re in the thick of it now and we’ll be here for at least three more months, hopefully four.

It’s a positive storm to be in, and braving it is vital for our success, but no one will blame you for feeling like Lieutenant Dan sitting in his shrimp boat’s crow’s nest crying foul to the heavens while it passes.

Frustration set in early this year. Tempers were lost when a video began circulating last month showing at least two presumed tourists hand feeding a bear near Kennedy Lake.  Our hearts broke when we saw those images because we understand what happens to bears that think humans will give them food.

Many people have lamented over the assumed fact that the people feeding that bear knew exactly what they were doing and why it was wrong but did it anyway to score a shareable experience.

I’m not so quick to make that assumption. Back in the day—stay with me here, I’ll be brief-ish—I used to leave a bowl of milk outside the house I was renting’s side door for a homeless cat that prowled my Prince George neighbourhood. I was an almond milk man but I would buy cow’s milk for this cat because we were friends and I wanted to help him or her out. I’m deathly allergic to cats so I couldn’t invite my friend in but I figured I could at least provide a little nourishment.

This went on for several months until I met a person who knew about cats and I told her about my cat friend. Adult cats, I learned through a storm of verbal violence, are basically lactose intolerant. They can drink milk when they’re babies but once they grow up their stomachs can’t handle it and it makes them very sick. When I learned this I immediately felt terrible. My heart broke. Not because of the trouble I was in, but because I earnestly thought I was helping.

Obviously this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. Google exists now and there’s more than enough information packed in the Internet’s many series of tubes to understand bears can’t be fed and that a fed one is a dead one. But how much do we expect visitors to Google before they get here? And doesn’t it make some sense that they’d Google Billy Joel’s music videos or time-saving life hacks instead of educational wildlife information?

I drive between Tofino and Ucluelet often and I’ve never seen anything that tells me a fed bear is a dead bear. I know not to feed them because I live here. Just like my son knows how salmon hatcheries work because he lives here. Just because we know it, doesn’t mean it’s common knowledge. Conservation Officers and Pacific Rim National Park staffers often give lectures about interacting with wildlife. I enjoy those but I often feel that telling the audience around me not to feed bears is a bit like telling camels to spit. The people who Google this stuff, and the people who attend those talks, tend to be people who are already onboard. West Coasters know wildlife like cat people know cats. Preaching to the choir is enjoyable for the choir but it does nothing to educate the ignorant. We need to reach the other side.

It’s not easy smiling through tourist season every year. Maybe we could spend some of our hard-earned tourist dollars on signs that at least tout the $350 fine for feeding wildlife.

Tourism Tofino’s 2016 budget is about $1 million. This is considered a tourism issue. How much do signs cost?

 

Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.