Neither West Kelowna nor Kelowna will benefit from the $50,000 increase in funding to reduce wildlife conflict announced by Steve Thomson, Minister of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources, at the B.C. Wildlife Federation’s annual general meeting this month.
Altogether, $275,000 has been set aside by the province to run the WildSafeBC education program to reduce conflict between human beings and wild animals. But neither municipality has signed on to secure a coordinator for the region—a measure which would cost local government as little as $2,500 annually.
“I’m absolutely shocked that we do not (have a WildSafeBC coordinator) given the size of Kelowna and, generally, how in touch we are with our surroundings, the outdoor recreation that we have, the number of orchardists and people that run vineyards that are directly impacted,” said conservation officer Terry Myroniuk.
WildSafeBC grew out of BearAware, an outstanding education program which brought the number of bears killed annually as a result of conflict with people down from 1,000, in 1999, to just 400 before expanding to become WildSafeBC in 2013. Some 33 animals have been killed as a result of conflict with people in the Central Okanagan this past year and its thought the program could greatly reduce that number.
Myroniuk said he knows it would save animal’s lives if more education on how to keep animals out in the wild could be done as she’s seen it in other jurisdictions.
“We had a program to the north of us in Vernon last year, and to the south, and Kelowna was a great big black hole,” he said.
The conservation officers do not have enough time to properly handle educating the public, he said, noting that the work WildSafeBC coordinator Zoe Kirk does out of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is indispensable, as was the coordinator at the City of Vernon, a position lost this year.
“It’s terrible for us. This really relies on us to do what we can with our limited resources. It’s very reactive,” said Myroniuk.
Working in Coquitlam, the conservation officer saw how effective one person can be, noting the coordinator’s ability to walk the streets, figure out that garbage collection was happening at the wrong time of day and negotiate a change with the municipality, drastically reduced the community’s bear interactions.
Like many communities throughout the region, deer have become a huge issue, if not the major wildlife interaction problem for most neighbourhoods and farms.
Numbers from the ministry of environment’s provincial wildlife conflict manager show conservation officers put down 19 deer over the course of the last year, compared to only one coyote and three black bears. And WildSafeBC’s data shows problem interactions reported with deer in the Central Okanagan are as abundant as those with bears—a species the public is trained to report.
The issue is costing local orchardists, who have gone public with their concerns, to the tune of hundreds of thousands in damage to trees and lost revenue.
WildSafeBC’s provincial coordinator, Frank Ritcey, says the deer have become habituated to the city and see the valley as a safe haven and food source with very little predators.
“In the past, deer were fearful of humans because their interactions were always negative,” said Ritcey. “Before we had leash laws, if a deer came into town, there was a good chance there was going to be a dog chasing off that deer. Urban spaces were associated with hunting and neighbourhoods with dogs, so deer stayed away.”
Deer should be a serious concern for everyone, according to Ritcey, who says the animals are a vector for disease bringing ticks with tick paralysis, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever into towns. And they attract predators.
“Wherever you get deer issues, cougar issues follow,” he said. “It’s that whole web of life. Everything is interconnected.”
Anyone in the province can report a problem interaction with wildlife to WildSafeBC and it will be tracked on the provincially managed Wildlife Alert Reporting Program. Call 250-862-2551.
Keeping cities safe and wildlife wild means reducing and eliminating food sources, Ritcey said, noting deer and bears seek out garbage as much as flowers or fruit.