The WildSafeBC Program is hoping to expand beyond the city borders of Vernon next year.
Frank Ritcey, provincial WildSafeBC coordinator, wants to enlist the Regional District of North Okanagan to expand the reach of the local public wildlife awareness and education initiative.
Ritcey made the pitch in delivering his overview of the program’s work in Vernon the past year to city council on Monday. The city contributed $4,100 towards the cost of a local WildSafeBC coordinator.
The program, organized by the BC Conservation Foundation, looks to reduce human-wildlife conflict through public education, innovation and cooperation.
WildsafeBC is an off-shoot of the Bear Aware program, a realization by the BCCF that other wildlife beyond bears pose conflicts with communities and were on the increase.
Ritcey said in 2017, the Vernon program registered 209 bear sightings, 121 deer, 28 cougar and 25 coyote.
Of those calls, Ritcey said 65 per cent were related to wildlife, mainly bears, hanging around disposed garbage, 12 per cent fruit trees, five per cent bird feeders and seven per cent livestock and livestock feed.
He said while bears remain a concern, the incidence of deer foraging for food in valley urban areas such as Vernon is increasing in occurrence.
“It’s one thing to have two or three deer to come around your backyard once in awhile, but’s quite another to 10 of them parked constantly in your backyard feeding on your fruit trees or vegetation,” Ritcey said.
“And you have cases where deer will become aggressive if they feel threatened.”
Related: Bear conflicts surface
Besides garbage, Ritcey said bird seed is also a magnet for hungry wildlife, and not only for bears and deer.
“Rodents like rats and mice will feed on it as well and that brings in the coyotes who feed on the rodents,” he said.
Because “wildlife don’t understand civic borders,” Ritcey is advocating that the WildSafeBC program be expanded across the regional district in a partnership with Vernon’s current program.
With the Okanagan Rail Trail soon coming on stream, wildlife awareness will take on a new level of public recognition that can’t be effectively addressed from within Vernon’s boundaries.
Ritcey said communities in the Thompson and Kootenay regions are facing invasive deer issues that have reached emergency proportions, citing the importance of public education.
“Vernon is not in a deer cull situation yet but if you take preventative measures now with regards to wildlife you can avoid facing that situation later,” Ritcey said.
“It’s better to get ahead of it now because deer culls are a tough debate.”
Feeding wildlife, he noted, is the worst thing Vernon residents can do, because if they find a food source they will keep returning.