Bear Research Group reveals desire for coexistence

A black bear who was able to access unsecure garbage in BC. Photo by Oliver Wirkus

Four UBC students have this month completed a project that casts a light on public perceptions of black bears and current enforcement methods.

The Bear Research Group – the informal name of University of British Columbia’s Applied Biology program students Brittany Bonapace, Antoni Alvarez, Myra Khokar and Yasamin Ranjbar – presented their findings to involved stakeholders in late April 2020.

The goal of the project was to identify how the public perceives black bears and how the public perceives the enforcement and mitigation strategies used to address human-wildlife conflicts. Areas within North Vancouver and Coquitlam were targetted and residents asked to complete an online survey. 

While acknowledging the limitations and potential biases within the survey results, the BRG presented four primary conclusions:

  • Majority of participants did not perceive bears as threats;
  • Relocation and “less aversive” management options were preferred over lethal action;
  • Participants strongly believe that enforcement of bylaws is needed; and,
  • Providing appropriate waste bins, increased enforcement, increased training for authorities and increased program lingual diversity are all necessary moving forward.

The students also noted that a greater diversity of age, race and study locations are necessary for future studies of this type.

Of note, relocation was a highly favoured mitigation strategy in conflict response, however the students indicated it is uncertain if respondents understood the complexity and difficulty in relocation as a solution.

Concerns that individuals more likely to support non-lethal options were a higher proportion of respondents due to the nature of the survey were raised by stakeholders and considered by the group; numerous other biases and limitations were also listed in the presentation, many of which can be managed in future efforts with a greater volume of resources.

The BRG spoke to management implications, which included municipalities investing more in bear-proof containers, more training for BCCOS and any other responding authority on bear behaviour and incorporating a more restrained approach in use of lethal force, and all parties must step up enforcement and encourage municipal sanitation staff to report residents who aren’t following rules.

The Fur-Bearers was involved in this project as advisors, frequently making introductions and arranging meetings with stakeholders and students, offering input (but not decisions) on the survey, and assisting in distribution. The project was overseen by Dr. Kristen Walker.

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