There were more calls regarding cougars in the Cumberland area in 2020. (WildSafeBC file photo)

There were more calls regarding cougars in the Cumberland area in 2020. (WildSafeBC file photo)

Bear calls down, cougar calls up in Cumberland

Last year was third in a row with no bears being put down

Once again, Cumberland’s program to keep bears out of the community resulted in none of the animals having to be put down.

In the late fall, WildSafeBC Cumberland community coordinator Ashley Marks provided an overview to council of how the last year had gone when it came to wildlife conflicts in the community.

In her annual report, she noted it is part of a trend in recent years of reducing the interactions with wildlife in settled areas through outreach and educational opportunities with the public.

Not so many years ago, Cumberland was having to put down many bears that had worked their way into settled parts of the community, but through public education, they have improved the situation, and once again there was no bear loss during the season, Marks said. This marked the third consecutive year.

“I’d like to keep it that way,” she said.

RELATED STORY: No bears destroyed in Cumberland in 2019

WildSafeBC grew out of the Bear Aware program. Now, it focuses not only on bears but other animals such as cougars and deer. For many animals, most notably bears, the number of interactions has dropped since the program started.

As Marks said, cougars were proving to be an exception in 2020. While calls for most animals were down, calls regarding cougars were up substantially after several years of dropping numbers. In her report, she notes cougars might be preying on domestic cats or tracking deer into town, but she adds it was not clear what exactly was causing the increase.

Cumberland Counc. Jesse Ketler came across this cougar during a walk on the trails below Kendal Avenue in Cumberland on Friday, Jan. 8. Photo by Jesse Ketler

WildSafeBC uses a number of means to get out the message about ways to reduce animal conflicts, such as displays in public areas, recreation camps and a nature education program for kids. Marks delivered seven presentations to more than 100 participants, with all but one held outdoors to allow for social distancing.

The program also relies on a garbage-tagging program, as Marks visited more than 600 houses to drop off reminders to residents not to leave out garbage that can attract bears.

“I left a door hanger, just because of COVID,” she said. “I didn’t want to invade their space, especially when they’re at home.”

The program also uses social media to spread its message. Its Facebook page saw an increase of 20 per cent over the year, Marks said.

Another challenge is fruit trees, especially from fallen fruit, that can attract bears, and Marks is hopeful a maintenance plan for orchards will help. There are also local programs through groups like LUSH Valley Food Action Society that help gather more fruit and leave less lying around in fields and yards.

“LUSH Valley has helped out a great deal,” she said.

In 2020, COVID-19 presented some challenges for programming, but there were others such as hesitance among people to call the Report All Poachers and Polluters phone line about wildlife.

For this year, Marks has identified goals such as continuing to target orchards and fruit trees, growing the social media network, establishing more local partnerships and having Cumberland continue to work toward BearSmart Community status.

One challenge that could continue is that as Cumberland grows, so do the possibilities of human-wildlife interactions, as the wild animals respond to increasing threats to their habitat.

“Cumberland has been growing a lot, and it’s encroaching on a lot of woods,” Marks said.

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