Mayor Meghan Lahti (centre) received a plaque from the BC Conservation Officers Service on behalf of the city on June 25. Patrick Penner photoPatrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After a more than 20-year effort, Port Moody has been officially declared a Bear Smart Community, one of only 11 cities to have been given the hard-won provincial designation.

Mayor Meghan Lahti, Couns. Haven Lurbiecki and Kyla Knowles, MLA Rick Glumac, city staff, wildlife advocates, and B.C. conservation officers gathered in Port Moody’s Pioneer Park to celebrate the accomplishment Tuesday.

Lahti said the designation means Port Moody has the highest standard of proactive public safety measures possible, and the status can only be attained by completing an “long exhaustive list” of criteria.

“I am so proud to be here today to celebrate an incredible achievement that has been years in the making,” she said. “A number of other municipalities are looking to replicate what we’ve just done.”

The Bear Smart Community Program was initiated by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Union of BC Municipalities and the BC Conservation Foundation to reduce human-bear conflicts by taking aims at the root causes.

It is a voluntary program that encourages collaboration and wide adoption of preventative steps across communities.

Port Moody has been actively trying to attain the Bear Smart Community status since 2000, when it started its Bear Essentials education program, teaching residents about bear behaviour and managing attractants with targeted communications.

Julie Pavey-Tomlinson, Port Moody’s general Manager of community services, said when she started working at the city in the late 1990s, open garbage cans in parks and attractants could be found everywhere.

An internal memo she wrote led to the city taking the first in a long list of preventive steps to start making Port Moody a more bear-friendly community.

“There was generally a feeling when you talked to people (back then) that it was really public safety versus wildlife consideration,” Pavey-Tomlinson said. “What’s important for protecting wildlife, also helps protect people. Having attractants around really doesn’t make anything safe.”

Since then, reducing human-bear conflicts has been incorporated into city planning documents, decision making and procedures, Lahti said.

These changes have led to increased bylaw enforcement, enhanced habitat connectivity, the development of preferred plant lists for landscaping near bear-prone areas, and updated requirements around solid waste storage.

Most recently, the city completed Bear Hazard Assessment in 2019, leading to the development of a comprehensive Human-Bear Conflict Management Plan.

Lahti acknowledged Port Moody’s new designation would not have been achieved without the dedication of local environmental groups.

The Tri-Cities Bear Aware Group and its founder, Carla Parr-Pearson, were given special recognition. The group was founded in 2019 in response to the number of bears having to be killed in the city and surrounding area.

Members have dedicated thousands of volunteer hours visiting more than 6,000 homes in Port Moody to provide educational outreach.

Parr-Pearson said she had a “wake up call” after a mother bear and its cubs were killed in her neighbourhood. She said she began documenting local conflicts, trying to educate her neighbours, and reporting repeat offenders.

“I used to wake up every morning and walk down my street and there’d be garbage cans tipped over on the street and all over the place,” Parr-Pearson said. “We’re no longer observing mother bears and cubs in well known chronic hotspots; instead we’re observing them passing through.

“I’m incredibly proud that leaving (storage waste) carts unsecured or non-collection days is no longer the accepted norm, and storing carts in bear-resistant enclosures is becoming a standard practice.”

Chief Conservation Officer Cameron Schley with the BC Conservation Officers Service (BCCOS) said Port Moody has displayed: “innovation, dedication and persistence” in solving difficult waste-management issues.

BCCOS was forced to kill 603 black bears in 2023, a record number, yet no bears have had to be destroyed in Port Moody since 2021.

“The proof is in the pudding, as the old saying goes,” Schley said.

According to a Freedom of Information request published by The Fur-Bearers, 11 black bears were killed in Port Moody between 2016 and 2021. In that same timeframe, 107 were killed across the Tri-Cities.

By Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 27, 2024 at 17:55

This item reprinted with permission from   Tri-Cities Dispatch   Coquitlam, British Columbia

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