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Bear Aware no more?

As with most small mountain towns in BC, Rossland sits squarely in and is surrounded by prime real estate when it comes to our big black friends in the forest. While certainly not desired, it’s not entirely uncommon to see the occasional black bear strolling through town. Rossland has been perhaps lucky over the past number of years to have not had any major bear/human interactions to have resulted in injuries. One probable cause contributing to that and to reducing bear/human interactions in general has been the hard work of the Bear Aware society. Facing an annual funding crunch and fighting for their society’s survival has worn down the folks involved, and the program is in real danger of disappearing from our area.

In the past the group has received provincial funding of $14,000 a year to maintain and operate its program. In addition to compiling, printing and distributing Bear Aware literature, the group also has put on a number of educational and awareness events regarding bear-safe practices, run events to reduce possible food sources in and around town, lobbied for and helped raise and donate funds to implement the first bear-proof garbage cans in town as well as gone into the schools to spread their message to students.

In 2009, provincial funding for the program in Rossland was revoked. Facing a $14,000 funding shortfall, program coordinator Rachael Roussin went into overdrive. She rustled up funding from the cities of Rossland and Trail and managed to pull off a reduced yet effective program on a quarter of the budget. The City of Rossland agreed to a three year funding of $2,500 a year for the program (2009 was the second year of that commitment) and the City of Trail kicked in $1,500 towards the cause.

“2009, in a nutshell, was the first year running without the provincial funding,” said Roussin before Rossland council this past Monday night. “It actually gave me some freedom not having to follow BC Conservation's mandate. Instead of a full program, however, I delivered a part time program working about eight hours a week.”

Compared to historical norms, 2009 was not a busy year for bears in Rossland. While there were many reported sightings, interactions with humans and “trouble” bears “didn’t cause too much Ruckus,” according to Roussin. In total, Rossland bears generated eight calls to the conservation officer and five bears in Rossland were destroyed. Mother Nature helped do her part by offering up a bumper crop of huckleberries this past summer. That, as pointed out by Roussin, was likely one reason why Rossland ended up having a relatively quiet year.

“There was one particularly sad case where we had a mother and two cubs hanging out in Pinewood. They were not leaving the area. Kids in the area were going up and trying to chase and pat the cubs so they had to be destroyed."

Trail’s calls for trouble bears, on the other hand were significantly higher in 2009. In the spring alone 112 calls were received by the conservation officer, largely generated in West Trail.

“It’s an interesting change,” explained Roussin. “The numbers of trouble bears has increased exponentially in Trail while Rossland’s have decreased significantly. This could be because of a number of factors. Perhaps the golf course development in Rossland took away some of the bears' land. Also, nobody in Trail seems to store their garbage inside, giving [bears] an easy food source. The Trail landfill, which is fenced off now, also took a past food source away for them.”

Following Foussin's presentation, councillors Andy Stradling and Kathy Wallace noted that perhaps Rossland’s success with the Bear Aware program could be causing more bears to head to Trail.
“Bears are very smart animals. If they can’t get food in one place they’ll go find it in another place,” suggested Stradling.

Working off the corner of her desk and putting in more than the eight hours a week she was paid for, Roussin still managed a successful program in 2009 despite operating under a $4000 budget. Highlights of the year included the installation of two bear-proof garbage cans--one on the lower rail grade and one at the ball diamond. She received a grant from Columbia Power to initiated a fruit tree management program as well as compiling a list of local pruners and useful information for folks with fruit trees on their property. Several workshops on electric fencing and composting in bear country were also well-attended. Perhaps most successful of all was the juicing program initiated by Bear Aware. The group purchased an old-style juicer with the goal of using up fruit that would otherwise fall to the ground and provide a food source in town for bears.

“We actually generated over 400 litres of juice from 13 groups that came out. People were bringing bashed up apples and small ones you couldn’t do anything with unless you juiced them. I asked a number of people, ‘Would you have picked them if not for the juicer?'. Most people said no. There was just an unbelievable quantity of apples brought in.”

Although the program has had marked positive results in town, Roussin noted that she will be stepping down as program coordinator. The lack of a multiyear funding commitment and the need each year to work just to find funding to continue has not allowed the program to do any planning for the future or provided any sense of security. For 2010 the group has applied again for funding to sustain a full time delivery specialist. If that funding comes in Roussin will not be applying. Without her efforts, the program sits in limbo with no guarantee that it will continue. As noted by Roussin and councillors alike, the program needs a new champion or two to take it on and perhaps develop a new model to operate without provincial funding.

“I feel hesitant and wonder, 'Why keep it going another year in this part time manner if we don’t know the future?' I could keep going year after year asking the city for more money and grants but that’s not my passion. Ideally we need another champion. We could deliver a part time program still for $4,000 a year,” explained Roussin. “Rossland seems to support it. Trail not so much.”

Bear Aware expects to hear in late April or May whether or not they will get their provincial funding reinstated. In the meantime, they are actively welcoming input from anyone with a passion to see the program continue in this area. If you want to get involved in some fashion Roussin encourages you to get in touch with her at 250-362-5452 or