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Local WildSafe BC funding still in question

Local WildSafe BC funding still in question

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WildSafe BC’s Sunshine Coast Coordinator Marina Stjepovic, in her year-end report, said cougar sightings have more than doubled from a couple of years ago, but black bears are the most common wildlife report. Donna McMahon photo

Conflicts between wildlife and humans are increasing on the Sunshine Coast, but WildSafe BC (WSBC) does not yet know whether there will be funding for a local program in 2017.

“One of our challenges is that we depend on the provincial government for core funding,” Frank Ritey, Provincial WildSafe BC Coordinator, said in an interview. Last year, province-wide, the BC government provided $275,000 and the program raised over $400,000 in additional funding from local governments, First Nations and other partners.

The program funded a Community Coordinator on the Sunshine Coast from May 15 to Nov. 30 last year. The Coordinator gave presentations, distributed educational materials at events and even went door-to-door in areas with high incidents of human-wildlife conflict.

“Despite WSBC’s efforts to educate, garbage still remains the number one wildlife attractant by far,” Coordinator Marina Stjepovic wrote in her Year End Report submitted to the Sunshine Coast Regional District. “Currently only the Town of Gibsons has an enforceable bylaw for refuse collection, specifying allowable times for placing garbage at curbside, and requiring ‘wildlife-resistant’ containers with fitted lids.”

Other food attractants are also a problem. “Don’t just assume because you’ve had compost out or a greasy BBQ out for a long time the bears won’t come, because once they find it they’ll likely come back again and again,” said Stjepovic.

Although black bears remain the number one source of wildlife reports to Conservation Officers, cougar sightings are on the rise, jumping from 40 in 2014 to 101 in 2016.

The Wildlife Alert Reporting Program (WARP) online map hosted by WSBC, showed nine cougar reports on the Sunshine Coast between January 22 and February 6, 2017: three on Gambier Island, four in Gibsons, one in Roberts Creek, and one in Sechelt.

Interestingly, the Provincial WSBC coordinator says that curbside pickup of food waste by municipalities actually decreases garbage incidents with wildlife because most people understand that they’re putting out “a bucket full of bear food.” Ritey said: “People tend to manage their organics better than the regular garbage.”

The provincial program originally started in 1999 as Bear Aware, and became WildSafe BC in 2012. In 2016 they conducted programs in over 100 BC communities. The province will make a 2017 funding decision by March 31.   Donna McMahon

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