Learn about living with bears; creating bear smart communities; recreating in bear country; bear safety at work; and managing bears (for wildlife officials).

Start a Bear Smart Organization

stakeholders collaberate on solutions to human-bear conflictBuilding a BearSmart community doesn’t happen on its own. In almost every case, the movement toward improving the safety of bears and people begins with a small group of people who care enough to advocate for reducing human-bear conflicts in their communities.

It’s important to understand that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Many communities have successfully launched successful BearSmart organizations. With the help of colleagues from all over North America, we have analysed and synthesized what works and what doesn’t in order to provide the following guidelines that can help you start a BearSmart movement in your community.

Getting Started

The first step is to gather together some like-minded locals who share a vision for a more bear-friendly community. The success of small, grassroots organizations almost always depends on the passion and commitment of one or two individuals, but it also requires the buy-in, support and commitment of a diverse team that can help get the work done.

Don’t just involve the usual suspects; invite all the stakeholders in the community who must be involved to make your efforts successful – politicians from all levels of government, environmentalists, bear managers and conservation officers, academics, First Nations people, business leaders, biologists, waste haulers and concerned citizens. They may not all formally “join” your group, but it’s important that they feel like they are part of the process – and the solution.

Make it real

The most instinctual response is to get busy doing “the work,” but the first thing to do is to figure out who you are (as a group) and what you want to do. Sketch out and agree to a vision statement, your mission and some short-term and intermediate goals you hope to achieve. Here is an example of what they might look like. There are several resources available to help you craft your vision and mission. Here is one we particularly like at Charity Village: link.

It’s also important to establish your organization as a legal entity so you will be recognized and so you can apply for funding. The easiest way to do this is to form a non-profit society in your province or state. It’s also important to apply for charitable status at the federal level because many granting agencies require charitable status from their applicants. Charitable status also allows you to issue tax receipts for donations, which individual donors often ask for. Click here for information on incorporating and applying for charitable status in Canada. (The process is different, and in many respects easier, in the United States. Click here for information.

Building a board

As part of this process, you will need to form a board of directors to oversee the organization’s operations. This is an important part of the process that will influence the success or failure of your organization. Too often, founders choose a handful of people who are passionate about the issue but who don’t have the skills needed to run a successful organization. It’s better to ask yourself, “What skills does the organization need to be successful?”, and then go out and find the best people you can to provide those skills.

Someone with non-profit management experience is extremely helpful, and an accountant who can help keep the books and file annual financial statements is almost essential. Other skill sets to consider for a BearSmart organization are media and communications, education, a biologist and/or bear manager, environmental advocacy, a lawyer, a local politician and an experienced fundraiser. Keep your board lean and efficient, perhaps five to nine people who are committed to the issue and willing to put some time in every month to make sure the organization is healthy so the staff and/or volunteers can achieve the organization’s goals. Wild Apricot has some great information about how to recruit, build and manage an effective board.

Plan the work, work the plan

Now that you’ve got a core group of volunteers and a committed board, it’s time to craft a strategic plan to help guide the organization toward its vision. This needn’t be complicated or onerous. Depending on how many people there are in your core circle, and how aligned their ideas are, it shouldn’t take more than a half-day session to brainstorm a strategic plan. This will allow you to re-evaluate your vision and mission, conduct a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), and add some strategic goals and objectives and the strategies you can use to reach them. Don’t spend too much time on this, but do do it. Keep it short, sweet and implementable.

Building a BearSmart community

A great deal of research and experience points to what is required to make a home, business, neighbourhood or community BearSmart. In B.C., for example, the Bear Smart Community Program is based on a series of criteria that communities must achieve in order to be recognized as being “Bear Smart.”

  1. Prepare a bear hazard assessment of the community and surrounding area.
  2. Prepare a bear/human conflict management plan that is designed to address the bear hazards and land-use conflicts identified in the previous step.
  3. Revise planning and decision-making documents to be consistent with the bear/human conflict management plan.
  4. Implement a continuing education program, directed at all sectors of the community.
  5. Develop and maintain a bear-proof municipal solid waste management system.
  6. Implement “Bear Smart” bylaws prohibiting the provision of food to bears as a result of intent, neglect or irresponsible management of attractants.

(See this technical background report for more detailed information on each of the criteria, including examples of their successful application.)

What your organization actually does to move your community toward BearSmartness will depend on the specific problems and opportunities unique to your community and the skills and aptitudes of your members. If your community already has a bear-proof waste management system, it may be time to focus on education. Or perhaps you need better bylaws and/or regulations to guide and encourage individual behaviour. Maybe it’s time to encourage the use of non-lethal bear management techniques to help the local bears learn what kind of behaviour can and can’t be tolerated.

These are the kinds of questions that should be answered in your strategic plan.

Working together

Consider striking up a bear working group in your community. The title is a little deceiving. It’s not a group of bears working together on their own behalf, but rather a diverse group of stakeholders (i.e. people) working together to keep bears and people safe in the community they share.

This strategy that has worked well in Whistler, where the Whistler’s Bear Advisory Committee (WBAC) brings together a variety of community stakeholders who collaborate together to minimize human-bear conflicts in the Resort Municipality of Whistler. This award-winning advisory group is comprised of representatives from two local BearSmart organizations, the waste hauler, the local and provincial governments, the police, the local ski hill operator and the Conservation Officer Service all meet regularly.

Among other things, the group develops and helps to implement solutions for minimizing human-bear conflicts, provides a forum for sharing information and resolving divergent views, and allows for a coordinated approach to community outreach and communications.

Involving all stakeholders is key – Sylvia Dolson, past Executive Director, Get Bear Smart Society

Get Bear Smart can help by providing educational materials, artwork for your own materials, PowerPoint presentations. We can even provide you with your very own website.

For information about the Whistler’s Bear Advisory Committee, contact bearaware@whistler.ca

Other Resources

Establishing and Supporting a Working Group Process

This publication tries to explain how key stakeholders are identified and sensitised. It further tries explaining that key stakeholders are those who seriously affected by the issue, those whose capital, expertise and information is crucial to resolving the issue, and those who possess relevant policy and implementation instruments. Order & Download Now.