FORT NELSON, B.C. – Northern Rockies Regional Municipality plans to have a meeting with the local Conservation Officer to discuss the bear situation in Fort Nelson, following years of efforts to mitigate bear and human conflict.

During the June 13th meeting, Regional Council received a report that provided an update on the bear response in the community and the efforts of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, the Conservation Officer Services, and Wildsafe BC to achieve Bear Smart Community status.

During the May 24th meeting, council resolved that a meeting be arranged with the local Conservation Officer to discuss council’s concerns about the bear situation in Fort Nelson.

They also instructed staff to research solutions other communities have implemented regarding human and bear conflicts.

An agreement was entered into in 2009 with the BC Conservation Officer Service for a Bear Response Pilot Program (BRPP), with the NRRM contributing over $30,000.

The Letter of Agreement outlined that Fort Nelson would see the addition of one CO during the agreement period with a minimum of 20 hours per week of service to implement the BRPP for an estimated peak period of 18 weeks.

The services the CO would provide included support specific to delivering a human-wildlife conflict program within the NRRM.

These services included assessment of reports of bear and human conflict, bear hazard risk assessments, public education and more.

Monthly reports of the BRPP activities were provided to NRRM, and a final report outlining it was provided at the end of each season.

According to the latest report, this program continued with “measured success” from 2009 until 2017.

In 2016 council decided to reduce the budget for this program from $30,000 to $10,740; in 2017, it was reduced to $3,000.

This final reduction eliminated the ability to involve the COS in the BRPP, so the program ended on January 1st, 2017.

Following this, the NRRM applied to the province for the Wildsafe Community Coordinator Program in 2017 but was unsuccessful.

From 2018 to now, the NRRM has been aligned with Wildsafe BC in acquiring the Wildsafe BC Community Coordinator program and provided $4,000 – $6,000 per year for this.

The community coordinator has helped develop the Bear Hazard Assessment, completed in 2020, providing community education, assisting with the monitoring of garbage, and now with the development of the Human Bear Conflict Management Plan.

This plan will be an adaptive document to help reduce bear conflicts so the NRRM can achieve Bear Smart Community Status.

The document will include establishing a working group, maintaining a public education program and managing existing fruit-bear trees.

The report says this document is in the final draft stages and should be finalized within the next month.

The local COS has also contributed to this document and worked with the NRRM and Wildsafe BC on integrating a Bear Resistant Garbage Bin Pilot Program.

A significant amount of time has been spent identifying where these bins would benefit.

On July 13th, 2020, Regional Council resolved that the NRRM provide bear-resistant bins to all residences that do not have a secure area to store their bin, for example, an enclosed shed or garage.

This totalled 65 homes and cost $9,100.

Out of the 65 homes, only 32 accepted the bear-proof bins.

On November 1st, 2021, a survey was sent out to the 32 residents to determine the effectiveness of the bins.

Only 11 responded, ranging from liking the bins to finding them “very cumbersome and pointless.”

The tagging and identifying of non-compliant bins throughout each “bear season” (generally May to October) is a joint effort of the COS, NRRM Bylaw and the Wildsafe Community Coordinator.

The report says they typically follow up with education and only use enforcement as a last resort for repeat offenders.

NRRM Bylaw enforcement is an additional function of the fire chief, deputy fire chief and building inspector, and due to this, the capacity to follow up is limited.

Enforcement is reportedly based on capacity and availability, which causes inconsistencies, which in turn causes frustration for the staff and public.

NRRM says that the COS has its own mandates for these issues that do not particularly align with the municipality’s bylaws.

Finally, a report with options to deal with fruit-bearing trees owned by the municipality has been obtained from an arborist.

This report has been shared with NRRM departments for future implementation and alignment with the Human Bear Conflict Management Plan to assist by reducing the attractants owned by the municipality.

A meeting is being scheduled with the local CO to discuss the current bear situation in Fort Nelson.

Shailynn Foster

Shailynn Foster is a news reporter for Shailynn has been writing since she was 7 years old, but only recently started her journey as a journalist. Shailynn was born and raised in Fort St. John and she watches way too much YouTube, Netflix and Disney+ during the week while playing DND on the weekends.