We live in a place that calls itself a city but enjoys the benefits of a small rural town. Traffic and crime problems we scoff at. Not big enough for the regular headlines from the bigger cities. Nope. What we hear about most of all are the wildlife and the problems that come from having it inside the city.
Take a look at the map of Grand Forks and it’s easy to see that creatures from the bush can penetrate right to the downtown core without having to roam the streets much at all. Two rivers pass through town. There are a number of lowland creek areas that also cover long stretches. The Trans-Canada Trail passes through town. All of these are natural avenues for wildlife to pass into and out of town.
Year round we have the Usual Suspects: the Deer, the Marmots, the Raccoons and the Coyotes. All creatures that have come to some accommodation with Man. And ones that Man has grown accustomed to seeing around in town. Some never leave town at all because they get fed by Man. In the fall we add the Bears to that list. And that’s when people get concerned because unlike the other animals on that list Bears can be dangerous.
Take that above situation. Add people who’ve moved to our little ‘city’ from a bigger ‘city’ but still thinking they’ve moved to a ‘city’. Add Social Networking like Facebook. Voila! One person sees a bear and everyone they know knows about it. And if they have children … and the bear gets a bit too unafraid of human beings … you have scared parents with dangerous animals prowling their neigbourhoods. And that’s the ind of thing that just gets scarier the more you think about it or chat about it.
Kim Sorin is a mother who lives close to downtown. One evening in the end of September she heard a noise at her front door and found herself confronted by a bear when she opened it. She also has deer and raccoons in her yard like many in Grand Forks. But when the raccoon snarls at her because she has nothing to share she feels her neighbour’s habit of feeding the animals exacerbates her problems with them.
So when the bear is at the door who ya gonna call?
Kim says the number she had for the Conservation Officer didn’t work so she called the cops. Well the police don’t deal with wildlife unless it’s hurt bad OR there’s an ongoing threat to humans. And by the time they arrived it had left. Later that night, about 3AM, they were called to another house not far away. Someone was trying to break into a window – that turned out to be a bear. When the cops arrived it scampered away and up into the trees.
The RCMP are called to put down one to two deer per week – this is always from a vehicle / deer altercation. When there’s a bear situation, unless it hangs around to continue to be a problem when they arrive, the RCMP will call the Conservation Officer.
Which is what we all should do when there’s a problem bear. But there is only ONE C.O. to cover the whole Boundary area. That’s correct: That one officer has to respond to calls from north in the Christian Valley, down in Rock Creek, eastward past Christina Lake and northward to Edgewood. One guy for this whole area is not enough BUT that is what we have.
This situation we find ourselves in is not the best but there are things we can do to keep it from being getting worse.
The first thing I hear from people is complaints directed at the ever present ‘THEM’. THEY who run things. THEY who take our tax dollars and don’t provide service, security and safety. The problem is many, if not most, of those doing the complaining do not know which level of government is responsible for what services.
So some self education would help.
First – the CITY has nothing to do with BEARS (or Cougars). That’s the province, specifically the Ministry of the Environment (a.k.a. the M.O.E.).
Second – the RCMP has nothing to do with BEARS.
Third – The number to call about BEARS (and Cougars) is the RAPP line: 1-877-952-7277
(IF you’re mobile and a Telus customer you can use #7277)
That line is available 24 hours a day (so they say) and the people there know how to get the message to the Conservation Officer and where he is. And there’s another reason to use that line instead of whatever other number you might have: The M.O.E. tracks the counts of calls for service to a given area and those counts are considered when they analyze where they should spend their valuable resources. So if you try some other number the Ministry won’t know you did and it won’t count come allocation planning time.
It is the fall and if the Conservation Officer has to come out due to problem bears then he will likely kill that bear. Relocating problem bears does not work – a problem bear just ends up as someone else’s problem that way, If the bear is causing property damage, has lost its fear of humans and or has become a threat to humans then that bear is a problem bear. IF you like bears then don’t be nice to them and help them become problem bears.
You can find out more information on the web from various sites:
Ministry of the Environment Conservation Officer Service
M.O.E RAPP page – for anything you see that is a violation of provincial law regarding wildlife
Bear Aware BC – useful information about bears and living in their area
WildSafe BC – the successor site to Bear Aware (it is a work in progress)
Shara Cooper did an interview with our local Conservation Officer Dave Webster and published that in the Boundary Sentinel.
The Bears need to fatten up for the winter. So they forage more in the fall. Help everyone and don’t make it so easy for them that they want to come back to town. If they are a problem call the number above. We all want to do the right thing but sometimes the proper decision is to kill the bear before someone gets hurt. That’s just a fact of life.
FEEDERS – DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE
Really. There are a number of things wrong with doing this.
YOU ARE NOT HELPING – You might think this is a humane thing to do but it is not. The wildlife can fend for itself without the need for human assistance. In fact it’s often the case that the food they get from humans is not the food they require. Deer fed the wrong type of food at the wrong time of year will eat food they cannot extract nutrition from and feel full and so not eat the food they really need. Starving with full bellies courtesy of ‘kind’ humans.
YOU ARE HURTING YOUR NEIGHBOURS – Leaving food out for your furry friends to help themselves is extending an invite to every animal around. That includes the ones you may not want like rats and bears. And by doing this you also invite those same animals to check out your neighbours’ property because if they live near you they too might be ‘nice’ humans who put out food too. And when your furry friends do not find it just waiting for them in your neighbour’s yard they might do a bit of searching and digging and damage. Now your kindness is causing damage to your neighbours. And if the animal in question is a bear then your kindness may result in the Conservation Officer being called and the bear being shot to death. How kind of you.
YOU ARE HURTING EVERYONE IN GRAND FORKS – Oh, and everyone in Grand Forks owes you a vote of thanks for the really high auto insurance premiums they all pay because they live in the same town as you. Why? Because your ‘kindness’ tells the deer they never have to leave and because they don’t we enjoy more deer / vehicle collisions than almost anywhere. And subsequently higher insurance rates. Thank you for that.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FRUIT TREES
All these Pears from one small tree
– the animals are browsing for food. Fruits and nuts grow on trees and Grand Forks’ rich agricultural past has left us with a bounty of fruit and nut trees. It’s not uncommon to move into a house and find you have fruit trees in the yard. If you don’t know the animals will show you by coming around to help you harvest all that fruit. Which you don’t want because that’s almost as bad as feeding them. These are what are called attractants.
The animals are attracted to the delicious smelly things in your yard. And on the way to your yard, or from it, they’ll be visiting your neighbours’ yards as well.
Another thing that is an attractant – DEER. Deer can be an attractant to a larger predator such as a Cougar. Grand Forks has a herd of deer that, apparently, never leave the valley. The numbers of deer in the bush near town have dropped over the past 4 decades but the number in town has not. In fact there are likely more deer in town than ever before. They only have one predator within town – cars and trucks. They have lots of upsides to remaining in town and no real downsides. So they never leave. And if the numbers are down in the bush and the larger predators get hungry enough … they’ll come looking for a meal. Which is what Gary Kennedy thinks he came upon just across the river from downtown back in September.
While we didn’t encounter the Cougar we came across signs of animals using the area.
Tracks in the sand were independently identified by two wildlife experts as being Bear and Coyote. Many spots showed long grass bent over by animals laying down.
As we wandered through the long grass we came across a small shelter that somebody had placed there. It had a roof (with some sort of roofing material) and small entrance with arched top. Gary said he’d first noticed it months ago but the sawdust in the entryway was clean and fresh. We decided not to lift the lid and see who was making it home. But it appears to be another case of some well meaning human taking action out of a sympathy for wildlife.
There are rules about this behaviour. There are laws prohibiting the feeding of wildlife. For large predators like Bears the province has laws and they are enforced. For the deer in town the city has laws. But that’s where things get complicated: the city has bylaws but for a period there was no bylaw enforcement officer. Both the laws and bylaw enforcement are relatively recent so a lot of people just don’t know what is wrong or right and who will do something to correct them and what form that will take. Maybe listening to the head of the Deer Committee Gary Smith will help sort that out.
Ok, let’s see if I got this right: There is a bylaw that says feeding the deer is against the law. Previous laws were intended to be ‘educational’ and had no ‘teeth’ … and no effect either. So now we have a Law with ‘teeth’ … sort of. We’re just not sure of the size of those teeth (fines) yet and that’s going to require some back and forth between deer committee and council and staff and council and in a few months the teeth will be in place. And then feeding the deer will really be against the law. In some way. But for now I leave you with the view through Kim’s fence …
Speaking of attractants: Green Bins anyone?
Last year the City of Grand Forks started a residential Kitchen Waste Redirection Program. This is a project done in conjunction with the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary. And Grand Forks is the first community outside the lower mainland to adopt this program.
It has some good, Green, goals like: composting all that kitchen waste for use in the agribusiness sector, extending the useable lifetime of our landfill, promoting more recycling knowledgeable citizenry.
Unfortunately it has aspects that aren’t so lofty and clean. It uses two plastic bins to hold the decomposing food stuffs. A small one for in the house and a large one for outside / curbside. The users are advised to use bin liners but they are under no obligation to do so. In fact the the example use in the video on the RDKB’s own website shows no bin liners, And that can lead to the green bins becoming attractive aromatic billboard signs calling all the hungry critters to your yard. I asked one of the workers picking up these bins how many used bin liners. His answer: “Not enough or my liking. Probably under 30%”. That means 7 out of every 10 bins get messy and stinky.
(from ShawTVKootenays on YouTube)
In the end of the previous interview video you might recall Councillor Smith pointing out that the same trash used to be out by the curb mixed in with the rest of the garbage. That’s true but the situations are not exactly the same. The big difference is this: Previously all this was in one or two bags. These bags left the premises when the garbage was picked up. Now the truck empties your Green bin BUT it leaves it behind. And if you do not rinse out the stinky bits sticking to the inner walls and floor the biology keeps working and the bins keep stinking. At least with the old system the stink left with when the bags left. In Vancouver they use a similar system and some attribute it to the increase in the rat population. Of course the Mayor of Vancouver is quick to point out that the same garbage used to be out by the curbside mixed together before in the old way. Wait – where have we heard that before?
Did you notice the flies this summer? Did it seem like there were more than previous summers? It might be those Green bins … check out this Vancouer Sun story on magoots.
Wildlife is here to stay.
And it should stay Wild.
We’re a small collection of humans living in the middle of a wilderness area surrounded by wildlife.
Wildlife does what it does. It does not read signs or obey laws or property lines.
Humans make rules. Animals make babies.
We humans talk and reason and can change our behaviours IF we want to.
We cannot change animals’ behaviours with talk and reason so we must do it other ways. Like not making it so hospitable for them. Or making it inhospitable.
At one council meeting when the contentious deer problem was being discussed a life long resident pointed out: “Back in the seventies we didn’t have a deer problem. We had a dog problem. Now we have no dog problem. But we got a deer problem.” The solution to one problem might just open you up to another problem.
And those feeders?