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Community takes steps to become Bear Aware

Local residents, resort and municipality start initiatives for wildlife safety
 | July 6, 2022
A Bear Aware sign on the entrance to Sun Peaks. Photo SPIN.

Community members are stepping up to make the village more bear aware and manage attractants, alongside Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) and Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR).

Last fall, a mother bear and two cubs had to be destroyed after becoming too comfortable around people as a result of accessing unnatural food sources.

Following the event, local community member Kim Grunling said she was encouraged by Sgt. Mike Sanderson of the Conservation Officer Service to get a Bear Aware committee together.

Grunling began posting important bear information on social media, and this spring officially formed a group with fellow community members Karen Lara and Irene Kastner.

“I think what draws a lot of people to live up here is that you have that connection and wanting to be in nature, so that comes with responsibility,” Grunling said.

“We have to learn, how do we all co-exist? I think by kind of building that relationship with the community and connecting like-minded people together gives a sense of buy-in.”

Lara said after what happened last fall, many community members were upset. She said their goal is to create a collaborative pathway for action without placing blame on anyone.

Lara added this Bear Aware initiative is a collaboration between SPR, SPMRM and the conservation office.

“We’re all equally engaged, active and supporting each other in this process,” she said. “All of these parts have to move together in a really supportive way. Otherwise, we run into too many barriers.”

Currently, the Bear Aware group is in the process of registering as a non-profit organization. Its role is community education, fundraising and liaising between the other stakeholders.

SPR’s role is to support the efforts of the group with a resort employee representative. Christina Antoniak, director of communications, said the team has been working with WildSafe B.C. to arrange several initiatives for the summer.

“We’re so pleased to see a community initiative taking shape and look forward to contributing to the committee,” Antoniak said. “Sun Peaks Resort is committed to its role in the community in continuing to create a safe and responsible environment for wildlife.”

SPR kicked off its part of the initiative in June with bear safety training and a bear spray workshop for employees. Antoniak said employees had the opportunity to speak with experts, especially staff members who have never lived in a bear populated area before.

The resort will continue the momentum throughout the summer with wildlife e-training and a WildSafe B.C. booth at community and staff events. Informational signage has been added on the mountain for guests as well.

“We’ve also taken steps at our food and beverage outlets to further protect and deter wildlife,” Antoniak said. “Notably, we’ve removed all outdoor grease storage bins and used oil is now stored indoors. Previous sites have been deep cleaned.”

SPMRM also plays a key role in the initiative by ensuring the wider community is aware of how to manage their attractants.

On June 21, council passed a solid waste bylaw, allowing the municipality to fine anyone who has not properly dealt with wildlife attractants. This includes any items that could reasonably attract a bear such as garbage, unclean barbeques, pet food, bird feeders, restaurant grease or unmanaged compost.

Previously, SPMRM had no way of enforcing where solid waste is kept.

“I think we would give most people a fair warning,” Mayor Al Raine said. “If they don’t react and do the right thing, then we do have a bylaw that can go after them.”

In the council meeting, SPMRM staff said they received reports of garbage being left outside this spring, but that those residents didn’t realize it would attract bears and responded positively when informed.

Sgt. Mike Sanderson of Conservation Officer Service said he is happy to see steps being taken to raise awareness and manage attractants. He said if there are no unnatural food sources, bears won’t become as comfortable around people.

“We’re going to have bears in Sun Peaks. It’s a very natural habitat,” Sanderson said. “But Sun Peaks is a bit unique in that it has a lot of visitors, and so people living and working there also need to be extra vigilant to make sure that visitors that may not be as knowledgeable about the risk of bear encounters or bear conflict in the area are also practising those things.”

Sanderson said this is why the community group is important to ensure all residents are doing their part.

“If it’s coming from government, whether that’s a municipal government or provincial government such as me, it’s less likely to be received or understood,” he said.

Moving forward, the community Bear Aware group hopes to put resources together to do door-to-door canvassing, have information tables at farmers’ markets, visit the school and engage with the community in any way they can.

“Our approach is really based on relationship with the community, as opposed to a rule set,” Lara said. “How can we support all of us to be successful in this? That’s kind of our long term.”

Grunling, Lara and Kastner are also completing bear training themselves to be fully educated, and to select training they think is appropriate as they look for other volunteers as well.

Anyone who is interested in getting involved or keeping up with the committee can follow Sun Peaks Bear Aware on Facebook.

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