Higher fines in Port Moody will help save bears says neighbourhood champion

Council instructed staff this week to begin preparing a bylaw that will raise the fine to $500 for the first violation of rules surrounding how garbage and recycling bins must be stored and deployed for pickup

Port Moody residents who don’t follow the city’s rules for disposing of their solid waste will soon face stiffer fines.

At its meeting last Tuesday, council’s committee of the whole instructed staff to begin preparing a bylaw that will raise the fine to $500 for the first violation of rules that govern where and how garbage and recycling bins must be stored and when they must be deployed for collection. Subsequent offences will scale up to the maximum allowed by the provincial community charter for a third infraction. Currently, that’s $2,000. 

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Right now, first offenders can be issued a ticket for $50, up to $500 for a third infraction. 

During a season in which bear sightings reported to Wildsafe BC’s alert reporting program were up more than 31% in Port Moody by mid-July, Coun. Diana Dilworth said “we need something that’s significant enough” to change the behaviour of people putting out their trash irresponsibly, providing a ready temptation to roaming bruins hungry for an easy meal.

In August, three bear cubs were orphaned when their mother was shot by conservation officers as they prowled a Heritage Mountain neighbourhood on garbage collection day.

It was a similar incident several years ago that mobilized one resident in the neighbourhood to take action that illustrated for councillors just how ineffective low fines were in getting people to abide by the rules.

Carla Parr-Pearson shared her journey to bear awareness as part of a presentation to council by the proponents of the Port Moody, Tri-Cities Bear Aware! Facebook group. The group was formed in the summer by city resident Dave Tate to provide a forum for people to share their bear stories and advocate for their safety.

Parr-Pearson said she was so distraught when a family of bears was destroyed after they broke into a garage on Forest Parkway in 2016, she called the city to see what she could do to prevent a recurrence. She was told she could be the eyes and ears of the neighbourhood.

After contacting the North Shore Bear Society for advice, that’s just what Parr-Pearson did. For three years now, she’s been methodically documenting bear encounters and improperly managed garbage bins, first on her street and then her neighbourhood. At first she logged the data in emails to Port Moody’s bylaw department, then, as the scope of her project has grown, she started keeping a spreadsheet.

Parr-Pearson said she isn’t being a vigilante; she just wants to help identify where more education might be needed so bears won’t be attracted to hang around and possibly end up dead because they’ve become habituated to human garbage.

Parr-Pearson said as the numbers in her chart grew, trends of repeat offenders and the nature of their offences became apparent. She said even a seemingly innocuous oversight like not properly clipping a bin closed could have dire consequences for a bear on the prowl for an easy meal.

Parr-Pearson — who goes out early in the morning to check for bin scofflaws after hearing the clatter of tipped bins through the night, or responds to texts from others in her neighbourhood who help keep an eye out — said about 60% of households comply with the rules. Of the remaining 40%, she said there’s a “moving target” of 15 to 20% that never comply as some families move out and others, who may not be familiar with the bylaws, move in.

Parr-Pearson said those numbers are discouraging.

“There were times I just wanted to give up,” she said, adding sometimes people who never see a bear personally may not even be aware of the potential problem, while others may be ignorant or confused by the city’s rules about garbage disposal.

Parr-Pearson said the increased fines will go a long way towards getting their attention. 

“This shows the city is really serious,” she said.

But, Parr-Pearson added, there’s still plenty that can be done, from more outreach and education by the city, to better promotion of the city’s solid waste app, to residents taking it upon themselves to become champions for their own neighbourhoods. 

“It’s embarrassing to see your cart ripped open,” Parr-Peason said. 

Even a simple change to the title of the city’s solid waste bylaw to make its intent to protect bears even more clear could have a dramatic effect, she added.

“With all the information that’s out there, it’s up to everyone in the neighbourhood to look out for the bears,” Parr-Pearson said. “No one wants to hear about a bear being shot.”

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