This week, three Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary staff traveled to Toronto for the second annual Living with Wildlife Conference.
Orphaned bears make their way to Aspen for a variety of reasons, but sometimes it’s because a mother bear, deemed a “nuisance,” is shot. There are certainly better options, Aspen staff insist.
Janalene Kingshott photo
The conference, hosted by the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, focused on lessons for understanding and co-existing with the wildlife around us.
The event’s speakers included an ecologist planner who works for the City of London, an environmental policy analyst from the Town of Oakville, an internationally renown pioneer in humane solutions to wildlife encounters, MNR representatives, a journalist and various representatives of wildlife protection groups.
It was heartening to hear these experts suggest that municipalities are slowly taking a new approach to human-wildlife encounters, with a greater understanding that there is no “nuisance” wildlife. Animals are just out there, fighting to survive, and we are making it too easy for them with garbage, dirty barbecues, outdoor cats and pet food, etc… to become a problem.
The solution is to not only educate everyone so there are fewer reasons for wild animals to visit homes and communities, but penalize residents and businesses who ignore the problems they create, the speakers said. A growing number of local governments are passing bylaws that include fines and other measures to curb the lackadaisical effort people make to avoid encounters with wildlife.
At Aspen, part of our mandate is to educate visitors to our centre and people who bring animals to our care, to create an understanding that as we continue to encroach on the territory of wild animals, we should take every step possible to ensure we can live alongside them.
Too often, someone builds a cottage or home in our area because of the natural surroundings, then reacts with astonishment when a bear, raccoon or other animal gets into an unsecured garbage, pushes through an open screen door or eats the cat food on the front deck.
We can’t blame the animals, and look at killing them as the only option.
In Archipelago Township, for example, there’s talk of a “bounty” on bears because they are now a “nuisance” for island cottages. That’s a perfect example of the wrong approach. No matter what animal you’re encountering, whether a coyote, bear, raccoon, etc… averting problems is key.
An educated public avoids attracting wildlife in the first place. Then, a municipality with sound bylaws can penalize the few who refuse to acknowledge they are creating problems for their neighbours.
According to the brochure of the association that hosted last week’s conference, “we also provide assistance to municipalities seeking to minimize human-wildlife conflicts.”
We suggest Archipelago Township officials, and anyone else who cares enough to look at tools and tips for co-existing, look them up at www.Furbearersdefenders.com. Judging by the panel of speakers, the organization has a host of resources to choose from, including those who spend their careers coming up with innovative ways for municipal governments to make sure people and animals both live happily in Ontario.
Many of the speakers dedicate their lives to a belief that every life matters. If only we all approached encounters with wildlife using that approach.