A heartfelt plea to City Council

Editor’s Note:

This open letter to Mayor McKee and ur six City Councillors was received at The Current on Friday morning, August 19:

Dear Mayor Mark McKee and Revelstoke City Council Members:

I am writing this letter to express my concern over the direction that my hometown is taking in regards to wildlife management, and in this particular case, bears.  To say I am ashamed, disgusted and embarrassed by what has been going on is an understatement.

I lived in Revelstoke for 28 years, my family still does live there.  I grew up with bears and other wildlife wandering in and out of our yard.  We were raised to be ‘Bear Aware’ at all times, and not jut when one had been spotted in the area. Revelstoke borders two national parks, and all citizens should be prepared that wildlife can be present within City limits at any time of the day or year.

As a student that did all of my elementary years at Arrow Heights, it was not unusual for the student body to be told that we could not go outside at recess or that we could not take one of the nature trails home after school because there was a bear in the area.  Most of us can remember when this happened we would pass where the bear was, it was obvious as the RCMP would have treed the bear knowing it was after school time, their cruisers would be parked to monitor the bear until all of the children had passed and then they would leave and let the bear wander off on it’s way. What happened to this practice?

From what I can see, one of the major issues that Revelstoke has is since we have changed to being classified as a Resort Community, this has lead to an influx of new citizens, many of whom are grossly undereducated when it comes co-existing with wildlife, as can be seen from the various social media posts as soon as a bear is spotted in the city.  As the City of Revelstoke uses a bear in their official logo, and welcomes people to the city with massive bear statues, you need to do better.  Problem bears are not born, they are caused by problem human actions.

I am well aware that there is a Bear Aware Program with a coordinator in place, but I think we can safely say that more needs to be done and that this job, at the moment, for one person is a daunting task and unfortunately, this education program is not hitting the mark and as a city, new ideas need to be explored to get the message out.  Take North Vancouver for example, they have The North Shore Black Bear Society (info: http://northshorebears.com/Aboutus) which does operate like the Bear Aware program but has a whole society, with directors and an army of volunteers, as well as 1 paid position, in order to track bears and educate people that live on the north shore as they try to avoid human/wildlife conflict.

As for education, another question to be raised is were is Parks Canada?  We border on 2 major national parks and have a Parks Canada office downtown. Why are they not assisting in educating the public?  I know they do bits and pieces here and there during interpretive talks and guided hikes, but from what I know, they are not seen as driving force when it comes to bear and wildlife education in Revelstoke.  To me, this is a major lost opportunity and a partnership could easily be formed with different platforms and resources for getting the message out.

The biggest thing that the City of Revelstoke can do is to be proactive in monitoring residents and businesses for garbage offences.  I think we can all agree that if the last 3 days have taught the residents of Revelstoke anything, it is true that a ‘fed bear is a dead bear.’ Bylaw officers need to be more visible and actually hand out fines to residents and businesses that don’t lock up their garbage, or put it out before collection times.  The City of Revelstoke perhaps will need to look at the budget and hire bylaw officers that work earlier or later in the day to monitor garbage during peak bear months.  Bear Aware going around and sticking a sticker on offending garbage is not going to do a thing, in fact most people laugh and ignore it.  Take the money that the City will collect in fines to fund the positions or an education program or new bear-proof garbage cans.  I know that may people don’t have the resources to freeze their garbage until collection day, which is what is recommended in a lot of literature, but perhaps the City could install one bear proof container, like are used in the National Parks, in each neighbourhood that people could use if they are stuck between collections days.

Revelstoke needs to be working hard to become a ‘Bear Smart’ community (info: http://www.bearsmart.com/managing-communities/overview/).  If other communities such as Squamish and Kamloops can do it, there is absolutely no reason that Revelstoke can’t.  I’ve also been told that City Council has looked into it, but there are a lot of steps that need to be taken.  This could be rectified by starting a task force and letting the citizens know that it is being looked at, as anyone I’ve talked to has no idea this program even exists, so again this is due a lack of The City of Revelstoke educating citizens in resources that are available to stop the conflicts and working with their citizens to become a recognized Bear Smart community.

After reading last night that 9 bears, including a mom with 2 cubs, had been shot in the last 3 days I started talking to my various connections in other communities, as well as at major media outlets. Golden, Squamish, North Vancouver, Coquitlam all get bears within their city limits as well and do everything they can to avoid conflict.  After all, it is only August.  There are 3 to 4 more months of prime bear time to come, so one can assume that based on recent events, the death toll of bears will continue to climb until they den for hibernation unless a major change and shift in attitudes takes place.

I know this will open a can of worms, but an aside issue from the slaughter of these 9 bears is where the carcasses have ended up.  Are they in a landfill somewhere or is someone making money selling pelts, bear claws and other bear parts?

Yes, one of the issues is that Revelstoke needs a dedicated, local Conservation Officer.  I have heard from a Revelstoke City Council Member that the City has lobbied the government to have a CO returned to Revelstoke.  Could you, as a Council, please elaborate more as to what has been done?  We all know that writing a letter to the Government and the Environment Minister is a worthless endeavor.  Getting a canned message back never instills confidence that your voice and concerns are being heard.  I have not seen an official City of Revelstoke petition asking for the return of a CO, please let me know if there has been one.  Christy Clark has been to town, has anyone had a sit down with her about this topic?

I also have heard from Revelstoke residents that are working in camps in Alberta that a program called ‘Bear Scare’ is being used when camps are off in the wilderness, in fact Revelstoke’s old CO was the one doing the program at one of the work camps (info: http://www.bearscare.ca/).  Perhaps talking to Adam Christie about the program and seeing if something similar could be introduced into Revelstoke city limits would be an option, as Adam was a respected CO and community member prior to his retirement which lead to the loss of Revelstoke CO position.

Something needs to be done, and it has been very obvious on social media the last few days that residents are not happy with what is happening.  We need to work together as a community and with City of Revelstoke leadership to make changes happen and make it so that we are able to successfully co-exist with wildlife.  There is a lot more that I could say and would be willing to talk to any member of City Council about at any time, as the above ideas are just scratching the surface of the problem.

Revelstoke is a mountain town, that is never going to change, so let’s try embracing all that comes with that, including the furry neighbours that like to pass through.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope something can be done.  I would love to be proud of my hometown once again.

Sari Lundberg
Vancouver, BC