Wildlife advocates form B.C. Bear Alliance, call for provincial watchdog
Bear advocates from across the province unite to urge province to practice non-lethal bear management
Wildlife advocates want body cameras on B.C. conservation officers tasked with responding to bear conflicts after more than 500 black bears were killed in the past year.
More than two dozen advocacy groups — from Pacific Wild to Justice for B.C. Grizzlies — have joined forces, forming the B.C. Bear Alliance. Organizers say they want to promote improved co-existence between humans and bears in B.C.
"We're concerned about the number of the black bears that are killed in the province," said Christine Miller, co-chair of the alliance. She says the collective was formed as stakeholders believed they could make a bigger impact as a unified voice when engaging with the province.
The alliance is calling for better oversight of conservation officers who deal with bears. Between April 2020 and March 2021, 524 black bears and 23 grizzlies were killed by the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS).
Miller says the COS should be subject to an independent watchdog, similar to police in B.C. As well as calling for the use of body cameras on officers, the group wants improved training to encourage more non-lethal interventions.
"A lot of [bear deaths] could be prevented," Miller said. "We would like to see the conservation officers have an enhanced understanding of bear behaviour, and to include that in ongoing training by bear training experts."
The alliance's list of action items also includes ramping up educational outreach in communities across the province and stricter enforcement of municipal bylaws to limit bear attractants.
In a statement, the COS did not address the formation of the B.C. Bear Alliance or its calls to action, instead saying that lethal action against bears is only used as a last resort.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, which oversees the COS, said the service "has intensified its public education and outreach efforts, particularly in neighbourhoods where increased residential development encroaches on known wildlife areas."
There is a formal complaints process addressing officer conduct.
Last week in Vancouver, a bear was spotted at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds before it headed toward downtown Vancouver. It was tracked by police and conservation officers.
The bear was tranquilized and relocated.
Over the last year, wildlife officers responded to about 3,000 calls regarding black bears, including an incident on a popular Coquitlam trail where a jogger came dangerously close to one of the animals.
Coquitlam is among nine Bear Smart municipalities in B.C. A city spokesperson said it is in support of the alliance.
Wildlife biologist and conservationist Adam Ford says black bear and grizzly populations in B.C. are healthy and stable. He notes that the biggest threat to populations is habitat loss.
Ford says that many black bear populations have survived near urban environments by adapting their behaviour to be more nocturnal.
"If they don't shift to being a nocturnal or a night bear, they're dead," he said. "Unfortunately, when it comes to human safety, bears are going to be the ones that lose out."
Ford says relocating bears that have become habituated isn't always humane.
"If you translocate these urban wildlife to more natural areas, their survival rate plummets," he said, noting that there are also concerns that relocated bears could eventually come back into contact with humans.
He says the major key is attractant management, something that residents in all communities near bear habitat need to be mindful of.
"At the end of the day, it's all on people."