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2023 was a great year for black bears in Tofino - Ucluelet

WildSafeBC Pacific Rim coordinators celebrate 0 bear deaths due to unnatural food sources
A West Coast black bear attempts to access an organics bin. The region is celebrating after no bears were killed due to unnatural food conditioning in 2023. (WildSafeBC photo)

The West Coast took a massive leap forward in coexisting with wildlife in 2023 as the year ended with no bears killed due to unnatural food conditioning.

During Tofino’s last regular council meeting of the year on Dec. 12, mayor Dan Law noted the last four years had seen an average of 10 bears killed after becoming conditioned to unnatural food sources, like residential garbage, and congratulated the community for their diligence in securing their waste.

“I think that’s a fabulous win,” Law said.

He added though that residents cannot let the good year become an excuse to become complacent about securing all refuse bins, both by latching the lids with carabiners and tethering containers to prevent bears from dragging them off.

“Unfortunately, that will eventually result in more euthanized bears, so I just encourage everybody to secure their containers, the latches as well as secure them to something immovable so bears cannot remove them,” he said.

The West Coast’s WildSafeBC coordinators Bob Hansen and Mandy Lawrenz are tasked with keeping wildlife wild and communities safe and presented as a delegation to Ucluelet’s council on Nov. 21.

“No food conditioned bears were put down this year. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t have a bear killed due to food conditioning. It was a very different year this year,” Hansen beamed.

He noted negative bear interactions were down across the board compared to 2022, which saw eight bears euthanized after accessing too many unnatural food sources.

He added though that one bear was killed after attacking and killing a dog in a remote area and a bear cub was killed in a vehicle collision on the highway within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

The year did not go by without challenges as 40 reports came in of bears accessing garbage bins and 22 accessing compost bins along with 29 carabiners being broken off bins and 15 unanchored carts dragged off by bears. Three buildings were entered by bears with people present, four sheds were damaged by bears and three outdoor freezers were accessed.

Hansen added there were five reports of bears accessing fruit trees and garden crops in residential areas and four reports of bears going after domestic chickens. He said 49 close encounters were reported with one incident where bear spray was used.

Hansen’s co-coordinator Lawrenz said 2023 brought a lot of encouraging news in terms of wildlife safety.

“With the help of many collaborators we have been undertaking a broad scope of activities to enhance the safety of Ucluelet as a community, but also of the local wildlife,” she said.

She said 31 wildlife safety awareness presentations were given reaching about 360 people as well as eight presentations at local schools and 11 display booths reaching 1,198 people.

Hansen and Lawrenz participated in six door-to-door educational campaigns in 2023 and kept an active presence on social media.

Hansen added the program also benefited from several media appearances and celebrated seven businesses completing the WildSafe business pledge with 12 businesses signed on and still in the process.

He said 17 electric fencing projects were launched with eight being completed by year’s end along with three bear spray training workshops and four electric fencing workshops.

“The foundation of our program is meeting up with people that are experiencing challenges with wildlife, whether it’s in their backyard or their business or wherever and working together on solutions and prevention,” he said.

Hansen thanked the district for their “unwavering support” of the local WildSafeBC program.

He suggested the roadmap ahead includes new wildlife attractant management bylaws in Tofino and Ucluelet.

He recommended Ucluelet adopt WildSafeBC waste management requirements as conditions on business licences as well as development permits and encouraged the district to continue pursuing BearSmart status for Ucluelet.

He added the district should also offer real-time wildlife information on its website as well as Tourism Ucluelet’s social media pages.

“These are just some of what we see as milestones on this coexistent journey,” he said.

He noted 2022 saw bears breaking into 35 vehicles between Tofino and Ucluelet, with no such break-ins reported in 2023 and added that commercial bins, which were a significant problem area for bears in 2022, were left untouched in 2023.

“This year looked completely different,” he said. “We have a complete switch from the patterns of past recent years to this year and it just showed the need for a program to be dynamic, responsive and adaptive to meet the challenges as they come.”

He added WildSafeBC is hoping to secure a funding model that would allow for a year-round WildSafeBC program.

“That would allow us to really expand our activities. There’s much that we could be doing, but it’s not feasible to do it during bear season,” he said.

Coun. Mark Maftei congratulated both coordinators on their success delivering information to residents and motivating community members to keep their wild neighbours safe.

“My concern with programs like this is always that we can maintain support to keep them going because obviously a lot of the issues that crop up, crop up with visitors to our community who just aren’t familiar, they don’t have the perspective, they don’t have the benefit of experience,” he said. “This is a great program and I want to publicly go on the record and strongly endorse it.”

He asked Hansen how much funding is needed from the district to support a year-round WildSafeBC program.

Hansen said a specific dollar amount has not yet been hashed out, but he hoped to work with the district to “come up with a number that’s reasonable and feasible.”

Maftei reiterated his support for the program.

“My personal feeling is that any money that the district and the community is in a position to invest in this program is money really, really well spent considering what we get from the program and the positive impacts that the program brings to the community for locals and visitors and everyone,” he said.

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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