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COMMENTARY · 14th June 2012
Walter McFarlane
In the dark of night, a cloaked vigilante stalks the streets. Armed with the most advanced high tech bear repellents, they keep the garbage safe for pick up. They call this person… the Bear Whisperer…

To my knowledge, Kitimat does not have an active bear whisperer.

A few years ago, a group of Kitimat residents got together. They were tired of seeing the number of bears killed as ‘nuisance bears’ going up. The group was formed as the Bear Care Committee by, at the time, Councillor Joanne Monaghan, who has since become Mayor.

At the first meeting, Monaghan talked about a man in the United States known as the Bear Whisperer. The man known as the Bear Whisperer is Steve Searles, who works in the town of Mammoth Lake.

The goal of Searls was to arm with deterrents and establishes themselves as the Alpha Bear in their communities. Deterrents include rubber bullets and noise makers. He uses these to tell bears the town is not a friendly place to hang around.

He also works with the public to remind them to reduce attractants. His plan worked for Mammoth Lake where Searls is a respected member of the community. It could work for Kitimat…

Or could it?

The local Conservation Service has given numerous presentations to Council where they have explained bears travel through the community as it is a superhighway between the forest and the river. The community provides plenty of yum yums for the bears, both natural and man placed.

Unfortunately, I have been told there are laws in Canada against walking around armed to the teeth with bear repellents so the idea is also out of the question.

The Bear Committee worked hard to try and educate the community and encourage new bylaws to help manage conflict between humans and wildlife. They had mixed results.

One of the successes the Bear Committee was the creation of a bylaw which prohibits residents of the community from leaving their garbage cans at the end of their driveway overnight. However, this was proven unsuccessful as the Council was told as it was being implemented, the bylaw officer does not work night shifts.

This committee also went out to all of the neighbourhoods in Kitimat which had frequent bear complaints and distributed information about managing attractants. However, people tend to defend their right to attract bears into their neighbourhoods.

The Bear Committee tried to get bear proof garbage cans each of the residents of Kitimat. However, this did not work for several reasons. Money being a big one, but it was difficult to pick a garbage can which was easy to use, move and replace if it was damaged or a piece was lost.

Most people seem to think the answer to Kitimat’s bear problem is to tear down the fence at the dump. However, a Conservation Officer explained at a Council meeting that this leads to the agonizing death of the bear as its insides are ripped to shreds by shards of glass and other debris.

It seems the Conservation Officers need a better press agent.

The answer to keeping Kitimat residents safe from bears is to simply build a wall around the town and hope that keeps the bears out. Former Councillor Bob Corless suggested this as a method of dealing with excess recyclable materials.

Until said wall is drafted and built, maybe it’s time to start becoming a little more bear smart, The Community could start by managing attractants and understanding how to remain safe in bear country.

Managing attractants means making sacrifices in our personal lives to make sure our neighbourhood is safe to live in. Understanding bear safety can help people navigate their encounter with a bear or avoid one all together.

The bears are out and they are in Kitimat to stay. We just have to learn to share our habitat with them.
The dump is not an issue!
Comment by Carlosroberto on 14th June 2012
Sue, The bears that were habituated to the dump are long gone, and their offspring are the bears we see in town today. They haven't had the opportunity to become habituated to the dump as a food source.

Having lived here for over 55 years I can assure you that we have always had bears in and around town. One of the big differences was that people were far more respectful of their environment and community and did not entice the bears into town by leaving household garbage out and available. You didn't see the open dumping of garbage in the bush around town either.

We do not have a bear problem, we have a people problem!!

We have a Bear Whisperer
Comment by Gary Haupt on 14th June 2012
In the recent court hearing involving our mayor and the BC Conservation Office, the lawyer defending the Mayor, cited her skills as a Bear Whisperer.

So..we already have a person with the skills.
Comment by Sue on 14th June 2012
Did Kitimat have this much trouble in the earliers years with the bears coming into town, before they put the fence up?