WildSafeBC is heading into a month-long hibernation on the West Coast, but that doesn’t mean residents should be any less diligent about managing their attractants.
Recent reports of a bear hunting for unnatural food sources in a Ucluelet neighbourhood and wolves being spotted a little too close to town in Tofino provide proof that there is no offseason for wildlife.
“For us on the West Coast, any month of the year can be a bear month and you just can’t let down your guard,” WildSafeBC Pacific Rim coordinator Bob Hansen told the Westerly News.
“That bear and the wolves really illustrate we’re sharing our landscape with wildlife every day of the year and that means we need to keep following actions and habits that work to keep the wildlife wild and our communities safe.”
While the wolves spotted around Tofino haven’t caused any reported trouble, Hansen said wolves are heading into their mating season when they are traditionally more aggressive, especially towards dogs.
“It’s definitely a time to be extra cautious and alert watching for signs of wolves in the area and having dogs on leash whenever we go out to the beaches or the trails. That keeps them safe and it avoids a conflict with wolves,” he said. “Dogs are seen as competitors in their territory and not always as potential prey. It’s a time of year where some people might let down their guard, they go to the beaches and there is very few people around and the temptation might be to just let the dogs go and range all over on the beaches, but that could be really taking some risks at this time of year in particular.”
The BC Conservation Officer Service set a trap for the bear in Ucluelet last month and while it remains on the lam, Hansen said its reported behaviour was troubling, as was its ability to access the garbage it became addicted to.
“This bear seems to be more and more proficient at finding and searching out any garbage that wasn’t secured,” he said, adding the easiest way for residents to avoid conflicts with bears is to leave their garbage secured until the morning of pickup.
“Even if it’s well hidden and it’s out of sight, their nose is like their super power, so they don’t need to be able to see it, they can smell it and they will follow their nose.”
He cautioned that the more conditioned a bear gets to garbage, the more aggressive it will become to find more.
“It just adds to their learning and their skillset and they just get better and better at it and unfortunately this bear just kept finding garbage,” he said. “Even a super sturdy wooden structure is no match for a determined bear, even a small bear. If there is any weakness in that structure, they’ll figure it out and they’ll find it and they’ll exploit it.”
READ MORE: Bear trapped and killed near Tofino-Ucluelet
He said outdoor freezers are also prime targets for hungry bears and locks don’t have a successful history of thwarting them.
“I had a case last year where one had three padlocks on it and the bear just ripped the whole top lid off. They’ll flip them upside down, they’ll jump up and down on them, they’ll find a way to get in,” he said. “Keeping a freezer indoors is the way you avoid that kind of conflict.”
He added pet food must also be stored indoors and bird feeders should not be used.
“Bird feed in general is really high in oil and fat and protein,” he said. “It’s sort of a one stop shop for a big shot of calories and nutrition. Bears will lick it up off the ground and they’ll climb trees to take down those bird feeders, so bird feed is a real big attractant.”
After a rough 2019 that saw 13 bears killed due to human-wildlife conflicts, the local WildSafeBC program doubled in size with Hansen being joined by new coordinator Marianne Paquette who launched the program in Hitacu and Macoah for the first time. The bolstered program correlated with a stark improvement in the West Coast’s attractant management as 2020 saw just two bears killed in the region.
“We teamed up on a regular basis so, between the two of us, that just made such a difference. It was so great to have that ability to brainstorm on issues and collaborate on different initiatives,” Hansen said.
Hansen said a key reason for the drop from 13 deaths to 2 was an increased focus on electric fencing, especially at local campgrounds and resorts, as well as an increased capacity for education.
“We’re making more and more connections and supporting more and more aspects of our communities,” he said.
The local WildSafeBC program, which usually runs from April to November, extended into February this year thanks to additional funding coming in late in the season.
“What it gave us the opportunity to do was to really work on a lot of proactive initiatives that we just can’t undertake in the busy season when we’re responding to all kinds of situations. We’ve really been able to embark on a number of things this winter and to get ready for next spring, which is a great opportunity,” Hansen said adding that the program will take March off before returning next month.
“We had a busy year and there’s lots of things going on, lots of good things and we’ll try to keep them going in April.”
Hansen said he’s working on a new WildSafe business pledge program and is in talks with the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to host workshops for local campground operators.
He added work is also being done on a regional program designed to proactively educate incoming tourists on the surrounding wildlife they’re heading towards.
“I’m anticipating that when we do turn the corner a bit and COVID-19 restrictions are eased, a lot of people are going to be planning trips out to the West Coast and we’d like to connect them with good information on how to take care of the West Coast and help be stewards when they’re visiting,” he said.
He said the program could not be possible without support from Parks Canada, Ocean Outfitters, Wickaninnish Inn, Hotel Zed and the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust as well as Tofino and Ucluelet’s district offices and the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District.
More information about the program can be found at wildsafebc.com as well as the WildSafeBC Pacific Rim and WildSafeBC Hitacu-Macoah Facebook pages. Anyone who spots a bear, wolf or cougar in town is urged to report their sighting to the Conservation Officer Service at