Feeding French fries to a bear on the side of the road is a bad idea. At least one visitor to Kootenay National Park thought it was a good idea, though, and may face a heavy fine as a result.
It’s sometimes surprising how readily people ignore or dismiss signs about feeding wildlife, stopping on the side of highways in no stopping areas, or trying to get right up close with the animals. That’s why one tool solutions to preventing human-caused conflict don’t always work, and at least three things should be in place for effective reduction of troublesome behaviours:
- Heavy fines. The story about Kootenay National Park indicates there’s a $25,000 maximum fine for stopping in the “no stopping” zone. It’s unlikely that a full $25,000 fine will be levied, but the existence of such a large fine can be used as a tool to show the severity of the problem, and as a last resort. This is often the case in communities where wildlife feeding by-laws need a bit extra bite (no pun intended).
- Tip lines. It only takes one person feeding wildlife in a large residential area to create big problems across the community, and in the experience of The Fur-Bearers, that one person can often be identified by neighbours. But calling out a neighbour you may have to live next to for the next 20 years can be intimidating. Having anonymous reporting by phone or online forms so by-law, wildlife, or other officers can investigate is a simple way to improve their effectiveness.
- Clearly labelled signs. Do not feed the animals, do not stop your car, do not … well, you get the idea. Basic signage is an absolute must. It may be time, however, to have caveats tacked onto those clear signs so they read “Do Not Feed The Animals / $25,000 fine” and below “Feeding wildlife just once can lead to injury or death for the animal.” Sure, it’s an oversimplification, but the message needs to really be nailed in that this isn’t just park officials or municipalities not wanting you to get that cute picture or have a happy memory with an animal, it can literally lead to life and death situations for the animals by changing their behaviour.
But none of this matters if there aren’t available resources to enforce local, provincial, or federal laws. Having by-law or wildlife officers who can educate, investigate, and enforce regulations are vital – and no amount of signage or clever rhymes (a fed bear is a dead bear; the headline to this blog) can replace that.