What Revelstoke needs to do to become a Bear Smart community

Can Revelstoke adapt to live conflict-free with bears?

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This article first appeared in print in the January 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

By Maggie Spizziri, Revelstoke Bear Aware Community Coordinator

Bears and Revelstoke go hand in hand. Bears are part of the Revelstoke logo, they are the mascot as you drive through the town, and they are often seen wandering the streets looking for food. Some bears become conditioned to eating garbage and fruit, and are destroyed. So far in 2018, five bears have been killed in town by B.C. conservation officers.

Keeping bears out of our community has been a challenge; other cities across the province have met this challenge. Revelstoke can, too. We need to become a Bear Smart Community. What does that entail? This provincial program recommends activities and standards to reduce human/bear conflicts.

Revelstoke already has completed many of the necessary Bear Smart requirements. A bear hazard assessment and human/bear conflict management plan was completed in 2009, updated in 2013, and will be updated again in 2019. Planning documents have been revised to be consistent with the conflict management plan. In 2017 the City of Revelstoke implemented the new wildlife and garbage bylaw. This leaves the last item on the Bear Smart list: develop and maintain a bear resistant solid waste management plan.

Why does it matter if a bear comes into Revelstoke and eats our garbage and fruit? Let’s first take a look at the history. (Article continues below.)

Bear Aware Brandy

Monashee Distillery’s Bear Aware Brandy is a unique collaboration between Revelstoke Bear Aware and the local craft distillery. Unwanted apples, pears, cherries, huckleberries, and plums were gleaned from local gardens and distilled into a wine-cask aged brandy. Distiller Josh McLafferty said the result is a heavy, fruit-forward flavour with notes of red wine and caramel. He’s created a signature cocktail, the Hibernation, based on the brandy, which is made of chartreuse, maraschino, and lemon. Unfortunately, the run of 60 bottles at the Mackenzie Avenue distillery is now sold out. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

In 1994, our landfill was surrounded by electric fencing and bears were no longer able to feed there. Grown accustomed to garbage as a food source, local bears turned to garbage in the city. That year 62 bears were either killed or relocated. The following year, the berry crop failed and 23 bears were killed and 25 were relocated. In 1996, concerned citizens formed the Revelstoke Bear Management Committee, and in 2004 the Revelstoke Bear Aware Society was formed.

Things have improved. Now, an average of only six bears are killed each year. Revelstoke Bear Aware offers a community education program; the City of Revelstoke installed bear-resistant bins downtown and throughout the community; the city implemented a garbage and wildlife bylaw; Revelstoke Bear Aware coordinates the Gleaning Program, offering free services to pick fruit; Home Hardware partners with Revelstoke Bear Aware for a cost-share bear-resistant garbage storage bin program. But again, why does this all matter?

In 2018 alone, there were four reported instances of a bear breaking into a home. A bear demolished a shed to get to garbage. Bears have figured out how to open vehicle doors. And a bear was bluff-charging residents as they were putting their garbage to the curb on garbage day. The more food-conditioned and habituated a bear becomes, the more aggressive it is about gaining easy access to accessible food. It is often difficult to understand how well bears can climb; they can easily scale any fence. It is also difficult to understand how strong they are. They can easily lift open the lid on any metal garbage bin or container that has not been certified as bear resistant.

The remaining step necessary for Revelstoke to become a Bear Smart community is creating a city-wide bear resistant garbage solution. This would alleviate the remaining issues. The Johnson Heights neighbourhood used to have the most human/bear conflicts. Now they have a centralized bin and the lowest number of human/bear conflicts in the city. Until the city is willing to implement a solution, it is up to individual citizens to take action to keep bears out of their garbage and fruit.

The more steps we take, and the more improvements we make, the more we reduce human/bear conflict. Let’s keep working together to keep bears wild and our community safe!

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