British Columbia

B.C. fires: drought may drive more wildlife into cities

While it was a rare treat to find a baby deer wandering through the heart of downtown Vancouver, wildlife experts say it's likely we'll see more human-wildlife encounters because of the drought.

Hot and dry conditions mean less food for animals in the wild

The deer paused traffic in the right-hand turn lane in front of the courthouse in downtown Vancouver at about 9:20 a.m. PT. (Michelle Lan/Twitter)

While it was a rare treat to find a baby deer wandering through downtown Vancouver earlier this week, wildlife experts say this year's drought could increase the number of human-wildlife encounters in urban areas.

"In years like this where we don't have a lot of rainfall, we see the bears come into cities more frequently, and also earlier in the summer and later in the fall," said Jesse Zeman of the B.C. Wildlife Federation.

Zeman said the primary concern is food scarcity. Many of the high-protein foods that wildlife depend on are negatively affected by the dry and hot conditions.  

For example, low water levels will reduce salmon and other fish populations, meaning less food for black bears and other species.

In the interior, deer, elk, bears and other forest animals will have fewer berries and less grass to eat.

This lack of food can alter animals' behaviour, pushing them further away from their natural habitats, Zeman said.

Short-term pain, long-term gain

Animals who don't find enough food will be more vulnerable in the winter and then into spring, especially if the province experiences heavy snowfall this year, Zeman said. 

This could lead to fewer cubs and calves being born in the spring.

However, the effects of the hundreds of fires burning in B.C. could be positive for biodiversity in the long run, Zeman said.

"It's inconsistent with the public messaging, but a lot of our biodiversity hotspots occur in areas that have consistent disturbances from fires."

Old trees with large foliage permit very little sunlight to reach the ground, which affects berry production and shorter plants, he said.

"When a fire goes through, it brings things back to an early stage where berries are able to really proliferate."


To hear the full interview with Jesse Zeman, listen to the audio labelled: B.C. wildlife and the ongoing drought. 

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