Revelstoke should aim to be Bear Smart community

Sari Lundberg write an open letter to council about the killing of nine bears in Revelstoke last week.

The following is an open letter to council:

Editor,

I am writing this letter to express my concern over the direction my hometown is taking in regards to wildlife management, and in this particular case, bears. To say I am ashamed, disgusted and embarrassed by what is going on is an understatement.

I lived in Revelstoke for 28 years and my family still lives there. I grew up with bears and other wildlife wandering in and out of our yard. We were raised to be “bear aware” at all times, and not just when one had been spotted in the area. Revelstoke borders two national parks and all citizens should be prepared that wildlife can be present within city limits at any time of the day or year.

As a student that did all of my elementary years at Arrow Heights, it was not unusual for students to be told we could not go outside at recess or that we could not take one of the trails home after school because there was a bear in the area. Most of us can remember when this happened because when we would pass where the bear was, the RCMP would have treed it knowing it was after school time. Their cruisers would be parked to monitor the bear until all the children passed and then they would leave and let the bear wander off on it’s way.

From what I can see, one of the major issues Revelstoke has is since we changed to being classified as a resort community, this has lead to an influx of new citizens, many of whom are grossly undereducated when it comes co-existing with wildlife, as can be seen from the various social media posts as soon as a bear is spotted in the city.  The City of Revelstoke uses a bear in their official logo and welcomes people to the city with massive bear statues. It needs to do better. Problem bears are not born, they are caused by problem human actions.

I am well aware that there is a Bear Aware Program with a coordinator in place, but I think we can safely say that more needs to be done and that this job, at the moment, for one person is a daunting task and unfortunately, this education program is not hitting the mark and as a city, new ideas need to be explored to get the message out.

As for education, another question to be raised is where is Parks Canada? We border on two major national parks and have a Parks Canada office downtown. Why are they not assisting in educating the public? I know they do bits and pieces here and there during interpretive talks and guided hikes, but from what I know, they are not seen as driving force when it comes to bear and wildlife education in Revelstoke. This is a major lost opportunity and a partnership could be formed to get the message out.

The biggest thing the City of Revelstoke can do is to be proactive in monitoring residents and businesses of garbage offences. I think we can all agree if the last three days have taught the residents of Revelstoke anything, it is that a fed bear is a dead bear.

Bylaw officers need to be more visible and actually hand out fines to residents and businesses that don’t lock up their garbage, or put it out before collection times. The city will need to look at the budget and hire bylaw officers that work earlier or later in the day to monitor garbage during peak bear months. Bear Aware going around and sticking a sticker on offending garbage is not going to do a thing. In fact, most people laugh and ignore it. Take the money the city collects in fines to fund the positions or an education program or new bear-proof garbage cans.

Revelstoke needs to work hard to become a Bear Smart community. If communities such as Squamish and Kamloops can do it, there is absolutely no reason Revelstoke can’t. I was told council looked into it, but there are a lot of steps that need to be taken. This could be rectified by starting a task force and letting the citizens know that it is being looked at, as anyone I’ve talked to has no idea this program even exists. Again, this is due a lack of the city educating citizens in resources that are available to stop the conflicts and working with their citizens to become a recognized Bear Smart community.

After reading nine bears, including a mom with two cubs, had been shot in the last three days I started talking to my various connections in other communities, as well as at major media outlets. Golden, Squamish, North Vancouver, Coquitlam all get bears within their city limits and do everything they can to avoid conflict. It is only August. There are three more months of prime bear time to come, so one can assume the death toll will continue to climb until they den for hibernation, unless a major change and shift in attitudes takes place.

Something needs to be done, and it has been very obvious the last few days that residents are not happy. We need to work together as a community, with city leadership, to make changes happen and make it so that we can successfully co-exist with wildlife.

Revelstoke is a mountain town, that is never going to change, so let’s try embracing all that comes with that, including the furry neighbours that like to pass through.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope something can be done. I would love to be proud of my hometown once again.

Sari Lundberg

Vancouver, B.C.