We know that attractants are the core of the human problem in which Coquitlam’s bears have found themselves caught. We know that bears, if given the opportunity, will take an easy meal from a garbage can or a backyard. We also know that the education efforts in Coquitlam aren’t enough, given the eight bears killed by the Conservation Officer Service and arrests of three residents who objected to killing a family of bears.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart penned an essay on Facebook titled, “Requiem for the ‘Chineside Bears’” which included a timeline of events leading up to the killing of the bears. Mayor Stewart outlined the extensive educational efforts of Coquitlam city staff and even his own attempts to educate people during bicycle rides. The Fur-Bearers were happy to volunteer and distribute approximately 500 of our bear awareness door hangers earlier this summer, too.
However, Mayor Stewart makes a few points that are erroneous, and misses one completely.
According to a report in the Toronto Star, Coquitlam has issued 832 warnings to residents about leaving out “unsecured garbage.” That shows the breadth of the effort. However, they’ve only issued 52 tickets (and according to The Fur-Bearers’ files obtained via Freedom of Information Act, the COS has issued one ticket in Coquitlam).
Education Without Enforcement Cannot Succeed
There is a problem in Coquitlam, and it isn’t the bears. The city acknowledges that attractant management is the root issue; the Conservation Officer Service acknowledges that attractant management is the root issue; various wildlife biologists, political pundits, non-profits like The Fur-Bearers, and others all acknowledge that attractant management is the root issue. However, there are only two groups who can use enforcement tools to affect change: the City of Coquitlam and the Conservation Officer Service.
Mayor Stewart does not address the fact that enforcement is lax, currently. Education is a vital tool in coexistence but failing to follow it up with penalties to those not adhering to the rules is frankly ridiculous. One can argue that some residents may not know and a fine may be unfair. But with the volume of education (as outlined by Mayor Stewart), social media coverage, and traditional media coverage, it is difficult to argue anyone is unaware of the problem or its solution.
There is no reason to not be issuing fines at their greatest amount given the seriousness of this situation. If drivers were ignoring the speed limit and killing bears on a major road, we’re certain Mayor Stewart (or his colleagues in law enforcement)would request speed enforcement; why not attractant enforcement?
Further to this point, Mayor Stewart makes the plea to not blame the Conservation Officer Service.
“I’m heartbroken that these bears (along with five more last night in Port Moody) are being killed,” he wrote. “But please don’t blame COS, who really have no choice once a bear is habituated to human garbage and shows no fear of humans.”
The Conservation Officer Service has the power to issue fines under the wildlife act related to attractants and feeding. To the best of our knowledge, they have issued a single ticket in Coquitlam, and have stated publicly that attractants aren’t their responsibility (and we’re yet to hear from the Minister of Environment on whose responsibility it is). There are multiple reports that they were actively chasing bears – meaning the bears are actively running away from them, which is not what we’d expect from bears who show no fear of humans.
The Conservation Officer Service’s WildSafe program came under fire from the Auditor General for not being evaluated for its efficacy; they are not using the enforcement tools they have to prevent escalation of conflict; they have no third party oversight following the killing of animals; and, allegedly ran down the street with loaded weapons in a residential neighbourhood chasing bears that allegedly aren’t afraid of them. There’s blame to go around, Mayor Stewart, and some of it lands squarely at the feet of the Conservation Officer Service.
Mayor Stewart concluded, writing, “The lesson here is that it takes everyone to prevent this result.”
We wholeheartedly agree. And we invite Mayor Stewart and the Conservation Officer Service to do their part and enforce the laws created to prevent this kind of situation from escalating the way it has.
The Fur-Bearers was formed in British Columbia in 1953 to advocate on behalf of fur-bearing animals in confinement and in the wild. The organization works with communities and municipalities to promote science-based coexistence with wildlife.
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