WildWise project urges tourists against feeding bears

A new report from a Yukon group devoted to reducing conflicts between wildlife and people offers suggestions on how to prevent run-ins with bears.

A new report from a Yukon group devoted to reducing conflicts between wildlife and people offers suggestions on how to prevent run-ins with bears.

The recommendations are part of WildWise Yukon’s 2017 annual progress report issued May 31.

“It’s a short read, but a worthwhile read,” Heather Ashthorn, executive director for WildWise said.

One of the biggest upcoming initiatives, Ashthorn said, is WildWise’s Skagway Road education project, which seeks to educate tourists about bears and safe and ethical bear viewing.

WildWise will put up signs along the road and the distribution of information pamphlets. Wildwise will also have people on the highway stopping at “places where we know tourists stop, where there are tour buses” to talk to them about bear safety and not feeding bears said Ashthorn.

The program was developed after concerns were raised about bears being food-conditioned in the area.

“This is our first project aimed at people who don’t live here,” she said. “We don’t know exactly where the problem is, but we are confident bears are being fed in that area.”

Feeding bears is extremely dangerous for both the animals and people, she said, something tourists — who often come from areas where bears do not live in direct proximity to people — might not know.

“Tourists just don’t know,” she said. “If I were a tourist, I’d want to see a bear too.”

It is also thought that some tour operators may be feeding bears in order to induce viewing opportunities, Ashthorn said.

“There’s a lot of tour operators and you’re going to get a few bad eggs, but there are lots of ethical operators,” she said.

The document offers a summary of the the organization’s most recent initiatives, including their trail sign project, electric fencing education and the development of bear teaching materials for public school students.

“Food conditioning is an ongoing problem,” Ashthorn said.

Food conditioned bears often lose their fear of people and are killed for safety reasons.

“Every time a bear is destroyed or seriously damages property, it’s a big event, it’s a big deal,” she said.

The complete WildWise Yukon report is available online at wildwise.ca.

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@gmail.com

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