Wild Wise, a community-based education program designed to reduce human and wildlife conflict has branched out to West Shore communities and is reminding residents to be wildlife-aware as the spring season brings an increase in bear and cougar sightings.
“There’s definitely high activity right now but that’s not necessarily unusual,” says Samantha Webb, program coordinator for Wild Wise.
The organization already had a branch in Sooke, where Webb says they’ve seen a big change in human-bear conflicts. Wild Wise officially opened in Metchosin last summer and began branching into Colwood this past winter. They’re looking to get a program started in Shawnigan and the Cowichan Valley as well.
“There’s a big need for wildlife education pretty much anywhere you live where there’s people and wildlife living close together,” Webb says.
When the program first started in Sooke, Webb says there were many human and bear conflicts leading to the habituation of bears and bear death due to their threat to humans. However, last year, Webb says there was only one bear death due to human and wildlife conflict.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress in Sooke and are hoping to bring that to other communities,” Webb says.
When Wild Wise was first interested in starting a program in Metchosin, Webb says residents acknowledged the fact that bears have gone after livestock but often said there was no garbage issue in the district. Webb, however, says that is not the case.
“We absolutely do have a garbage issue in Metchosin and unfortunately wildlife play a part in that,” Webb says.
She says residents should start to keep garbage in a secure location like a shed or garage right up until the morning of collection and not put their garbage out the night before otherwise it is “a matter of time” before animals get into it. Webb says wildlife and bears learn quickly that garbage is an easy, high-calorie food source and will continue to try and get into garbage until they’re successful. She says bears will even come close to homes to investigate.
Cougars and bears also tend to go for unsecured livestock, so Webb recommends using an electric fence.
“And that includes for chickens too,” Webb says.
When out on hikes, Webb says to keep pets on a leash. If a bear or cougar is encountered in the woods she says to not run away or scream but to maintain eye contact while talking and backing away slowly.
“We have to remember they’re wild animals and they’re unpredictable,” Webb says.
The number one thing to keep in mind, Webb says, is that it is up to humans to manage attractants in order to keep wildlife, community members, pets and livestock safe.