No Bear Aware program this year

City fails to submit bid for coordinator position that is mainly funded by provincial government.

Maple Ridge will be without a coordinator for its Bear Aware program this year after the city failed to apply for provincial funding.

Dan Mikolay has served as the WildSafeBC program coordinator for the past two years. However, unless the city comes up with the funding itself, the program won’t run this year.

According to Frank Ritcey, provincial coordinator for WildSafeBC, which oversees the Bear Aware program, any community applying for funding must commit at least $2,500 of its own. If accepted, he said, the communities are entitled to about $8,000 for wages. WildSafeBC also provides training and tool kits.

Conservation officer Todd Hunter, who oversees the area from Coquitlam to Mission, made a pitch to council Monday in hopes the city can come up with the funds to keep the program going.

“I don’t want to lose it,” he said. “Last year we had quite a low number of calls on incidents compared to other years. The less bears we have to relocate or destroy the better, so I’d like to keep on that trend and have that coordinator position in place.”

He said Maple Ridge had to put down six bears in 2014, down from 12  in 2013. He said as many as 30 bears have had to be destroyed in the region due mostly to people leaving out garbage.

Hunter is hopeful the city can find a way to keep the program in place as it provides an education component that he and his team can’t always keep up.

He said the program is critical to helping reduce the number of calls his team of three has to respond to.

“It’s an essential component of the work we do in trying to educate the public about keeping any garbage secure so you don’t attract bears,” said Hunter. “We don’t want to have one of those years where we have to deal with a lot of bears and we realistically only have a few ways to deal with them.”

He’s also hoping the city will consider going to food safe waste containers, as other municipalities have, to start complying with zero food waste initiative starting June 1.

“I’d like to see Maple Ridge get on board with a proper container. If we’re going to be separating our food waste, I can see us having a lot of problems and the public safety threats increase with the current mechanism that’s going to be in place,” said Hunter.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read was surprised to learn the program would not be going forward this year said she is looking into why funding wasn’t applied for and if there are alternatives.

“Right now I’m just gathering the information and I don’t have those answers.”

She supports the program and is hopeful the city can come up with the funding to keep it going.

“This all backs on to the conversation we are having with our garbage collection and the bear interaction component is important,” said Read.

Maple Ridge currently sees four private contractors providing garbage pickup, at rates and terms agreed upon by homeowners and the businesses. The average cost is about $288 per household per year, according to a report by city hall.

The city is considering a contracted-out system administered by the city, or an in-house system, in which the city purchases garbage trucks and hires staff.

Hunter said a more coordinated garbage pick-up in Maple Ridge would be helpful in reducing incidents.

Ritcey said there is a remote chance that the city could still put in an application despite missing the deadline, as not all funds have been handed out yet.

“Never say never,” said Ritcey. “This is a tough time of the year as we always have more communities apply than we can service. We’re always looking for ways to expand the program.”