This photo of a cow elk near Gyro Park in Trail was taken by Aiden Poulter, who had a great day of urban wildlife viewing in Sunningdale earlier this month. Aiden Poulter photo.

COS urges residents to be safe and keep wildlife wild in Greater Trail

Wildlife encounters on the upswing in Greater Trail, fines pending for open wildlife attractants

The number of wildlife sightings in Greater Trail has spiked in the past few weeks.

The Trail Times received videos and photos of a number of wildlife encounters, which seemed a bit out of the ordinary.

John D’Arcangelo of East Trail shared a video of a calf moose bolting down Second Ave., and Sharman Thomas footage of a black bear casually walking down Cedar Ave.

Aidan Poulter had an incredible day of wildlife viewing and sent in a photo of an elk grazing in Gyro Park.

“We were in Gyro talking and had seen two eagles clinching, fighting,” said Poulter. “Four goats were roaming close together up high on the cliffs (and one was a young small one), and then we saw her (the elk). At first, we thought she was a moose but then realised she was an elk.

“She looked as big as a medium horse, curious, and stood and stared so hard you wondered if she was angry or afraid, or that mixture of both.

Stunningly beautiful. Gave us all that magical feeling you get when you see anything wild approach you but her size and demeanor were magnificent. Then my kids and others also saw a coyote.

“It sure is an amazing place to see wildlife.”

Wildlife sightings are not uncommon in the West Kootenay but the frequency seems to have increased this year. Trail Wildlife Association president Terry Hanik says the encounters are unusual.

“The elk and moose is not an ordinary thing to see. We were always told that the deer when they start coming into town, they were scared of predators. So the animals if they are coming into town, it’s for safety reasons, and the other one is food.”

It’s invigorating to view mountain goats poised precariously on the Sunningdale bluffs or deer grazing in parks, not to mention the many eagles, osprey, hawks, northern flickers, and a variety of other birds that make life more pleasant.

But a number of recent black bear encounters has caused concern among the Conservation Officers Services (COS). Last month a bear broke into a West Trail resident’s car and completely destroyed the interior, another in Rossland welcomed the Smoke Eaters coach by assaulting his vehicle, and more recently RCMP were forced to destroy a habituated bear that had tried to enter a local supermarket.

“Numbers compared to last year it’s through the roof,” said Conservation Officer Blair Thin. “But historically this is about an average year.”

According to 2019 WildSafeBC Annual Report, May, June, and September are the busiest months for bear encounters. From 2016-19, Rossland and Trail residents made about 850 calls to the Conservation Officer Services (COS) regarding wildlife. Most were black bear reports, with 2016 showing the highest count with 220 calls from Trail alone. The numbers declined three years straight, to about 40 bear encounters last year.

“That’s pretty normal for Trail,” said Thin. “That whole area, especially West Trail, is a huge draw for bears, because there is such an attractant issue. Once you have a bear in the neighbourhood, all they do is wander around looking for the next field. They’re going house to house and getting into attractants so it’s just a matter of time before they hit the downtown core.”

And as the video of the black bear indicated, the garbage receptacles in downtown Trail are not bear proof.

“We don’t want bears wandering through downtown Trail, but there has to be some community buy-in and people securing attractants to be able to stop this from happening.”

Attractants like garbage, unpicked fruit, and bird feeders are the main cause of luring bears into urban areas.

Trail and Rossland have had respective bylaws in place for many years, both stipulate that refuse must not be placed curbside before 5 a.m. on the day of collection. And having unsecured attractants, be it garbage or a hummingbird feeder, can result in a $230 fine.

“We’re trying to put the responsibility back on the property owners and business owners to maintain an attractant-free property … Birds do not need to be fed at this time of year.”

With only two Conservation Officers in the area, responding to every encounter is all but impossible, so Thin implores residents to keep refuse secure, forego the birdfeeders, and secure an electric barrier around fruit trees, composts, and gardens.

“We have been trapping bears that are a direct threat to public safety, and those that are causing significant damage to property, we will trap and destroy.

“We just can’t put the wild back into these bears. They won’t go from eating Big Macs to eating huckleberries. Unfortunately for the bear, it’s their downfall.”

As cities expand and encroach on wildlife habitat, wildlife encounters do increase, and predators also pose a problem.

“It’s unusual to see a moose on Second Avenue,” added Hanik. “We do have lots of predators the last few years, between the cougars, wolves, and coyotes, it’s a tough situation for them.”

When wildlife stop moving through the community and start using the community as a foraging area for human-provided foods, animals can become food-conditioned, resulting in conflicts.

Once wildlife starts equating humans with foods, they can lose their natural wariness of humans and become human-habituated – meaning they tolerate humans in much closer proximity than what is safe.

“We have wildlife exploiting a food source,” added Thin. “It’s the same reason we have bears in the downtown core, is the reason why we have elk and moose doing the same thing. The lush gardens we have in our backyards, it’s an appeal to the ungulate.”

Thin recommends residents keep their distance from wildlife, especially those with young.

“I would not want to tangle with an ungulate that’s taking care of their offspring, they have a tendency of lashing out and trying to remove the perceived threat.”

The most effective and humane way to solve wildlife problems is to prevent them before they happen. Take steps to wildlife-proof your home.

Recommendations include:

  • Don’t feed wildlife: Secure your garbage, keep people and pet food indoors, clean up fallen fruit and remove bird feeders. Keep pets indoors at night.
  • Prevent entry: Seal entrances and gaps to houses, sheds, barns and under porches.
  • Keep clean: Tidy up messes and spills, clean barbeques and outdoor waste to prevent denning or nesting

Residents who come into contact with wildlife should call the RAPP line (Report All Poachers and Polluters) at 1-877-952-7277.

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