Nelson was second only to Prince George in numbers of black bears killed by B.C. conservation officers in 2022.
The non-profit national organization Fur-Bearers submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request to the B.C. government and received bear death numbers for dozens of B.C. communities for each of the past eight years.
In 2022 there were 21 bears killed in Nelson and the rural areas on both sides of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake (Taghum to Queens Bay).
There were 32 deaths in Prince George, 14 in Castlegar, and 12 in each of Okanagan Falls, Revelstoke and West Kelowna. Nanaimo and Port Alberni had 10 each.
Across the province, there were 500 bears killed in 2022, and 4,279 since 2015.
Aaron Hofman of Fur-Bearers (also known as the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals) told the Nelson Star the group requested the information because it wanted provincial data broken down to the local level.
“This information is crucial for citizens, local governments, and the province to take action and collaboratively work together to prevent bears from being needlessly killed in British Columbia,” Hofman said.
The Ursa Project
The FOI results show Nelson’s numbers for previous years: 2015 (14 deaths), 2016 (18), 2017 (seven), 2018 (six), 2019 (four), 2020 (four), 2021 (11), and 2022 (21) for a total of 85.
The Nelson-based non-profit group The Ursa Project also conducted an FOI asking specifically for bear death numbers within the city limits (not including the neighbouring rural area) and that number was 17 deaths.
The Ursa Project has many suggestions about what the city could be doing differently.
“The geography of Nelson is not unique,” said Ursa’s Anita Johnson. “Many cities in B.C. are surrounded by forests.”
Johnson said the bear problems in Nelson are due to a mix of factors. These include the need for bear-resistant garbage cans at every residence, weekly garbage pickup during bear season, and enforcement of the city’s Wildlife Attractant Bylaw. Lack of such enforcement causes apathy and non-compliance, she said.
Other culprits, Johnson said, include illegal household garbage dumping, unmanaged fruit and nut trees, and improper composting methods that create “bear troughs” for bears.
She said the public needs better education about the BC Conservation Officer policy against the relocation of bears. Bears are not relocated because they always return to urban areas once they are habituated to garbage.
Also contributing to the problem are unsecured commercial dumpsters and grease barrels, lack of bear resistant garbage receptacles in public areas such as downtown and schools, and new residents’ unfamiliarity with bears, Johnson said.
Johnson said the group has asked the City of Nelson to take action on a number of these initiatives including the five-step process of becoming officially Bear Smart, but has seen no action so far.
“Managing wildlife is a provincial responsibility,” she said, “but managing wildlife attractants is, without question, a municipal responsibility.”
To be certified as Bear Smart by the province, a community must meet six criteria: it must conduct a bear-hazard assessment, create a bear-human conflict management plan, incorporate the plan into other planning documents, implement an ongoing public education program, create a bear-proof waste management system, and enact enforcement bylaws.
The second item on this list — a conflict management plan — could include such things as requiring bear resistant containers.
Achieving Bear Smart status does not guarantee success, however. Last year two local Bear Smart communities — Castlegar and New Denver — had serious bear problems, despite the fact that the City of Castlegar provides bear-resistant residential garbage cans to all residents.
In December, Castlegar’s director of corporate services Tracy Butler told the Nelson Star that the city initially used federal gas tax money to buy every resident a 240-litre bear-resistant container. But there is still an annual cost of up to $20,000 to maintain the program.
Mayor Janice Morrison
Asked about the likelihood of bear resistant containers for every Nelson resident, Mayor Janice Morrison said this will be considered in budget discussions in the fall. She said by then the city will have some idea of the effectiveness of the city’s organic waste diversion program — FoodCylers on the kitchen countertops of every kitchen in Fairview meant to reduce food waste at curbside.
As for weekly garbage collection during bear season, Morrison said, “I brought it up with public works staff and have not gone back yet to see what they think of it.”
Morrison promised stricter enforcement of the city’s Waste Management and Wildlife Attractant Bylaw. She said the city so far has taken an educational approach.
“We were very generous last year. This year we are going to have to look at doing more. Fining someone is punitive but if that is what we need to be doing, then that is the road we will have to take.”
The bylaw provides for fines of up to $2,000 for infractions.
As for Nelson being second on the bear mortality list for the province, Morrison pointed out that it was a bad year for every community in the West Kootenay because of a bad berry year in the mountains of the West Kootenay.
Conservation officer Ben Beetlestone confirmed this in December in an interview with the Nelson Star. He said a poor berry crop combined with a hot late summer that dried out natural food sources in the mountains sent bears into town.
WildSafe BC local co-ordinator Lisa Thompson said her organization is glad to see more bear resistant containers in public places like Lakeside Park and is pleased to hear there are more planned.
“But Wildsafe BC has been making recommendations annually to mayor and council,”she said, “and it is only after eight years or more of recommendations that we are slowly getting bear proof garbage bins in and around Lakeside Park.”
Thompson said it is also important to decommission the old-style bins that are still in use in some public places including parts of Lakeside Park.
Wildsafe BC’s annual reports show that the group has been advocating for bear-resistant residential garbage cans since 2014.
Thompson said she is glad to see that Waste Management, the company that collects commercial and institutional waste in Nelson, has been providing some dumpsters with a bear bar (a bar that can be flipped up over the lid so it cannot be opened). But she said success depends entirely on the business owner keeping the bar in place.