The effect of education in reducing bear attractants on cottage properties: Manitoba's “Bear Smart” program
Over the past decades there has been an increase in negative interactions between humans and bears. In response to these concerns a number of initiatives such as Bear Smart, Bear Aware and Bear Wise have evolved to help communities learn to deal with bears. All these programs share the goals of educating people about how to avoid attracting bears to their property or campsite, changing behaviors that serve to attract bears and what to do should a bear approach. This study examines the efficacy of the Bear Smart program in two cottage communities along the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Audits of bear attractants were conducted on cottage properties prior to and after the implementation of the Bear Smart awareness program. In addition, a population survey based on the Theory of Planned Behavior was conducted in order to identify attitudes and intentions with respect to bear smart behavior. Results indicate that despite the educational programming conducted throughout the cottaging season and positive attitudes toward bear smart behavior, little had actually been done by cottagers to reduce their cottage properties' attractiveness to bears. The results of the property bear attractant audits showed minimal effect in terms of reduced attractants on cottage properties in either of the two communities. While on the surface this might suggest that the targeted multi channel educational programs were not effective in changing behavior, it is possible that the effect was masked by the normal seasonal increase in attractants as the cottage season progressed. In particular behaviors relating to the proper handling of food and garbage elicited very positive attitude scores. When considered in light of the evaluation of removing bird feeders (with and without food) where 16% and 24% respectively state removing feeders is quite to very unacceptable, the issue of communicating the role of bird feeders as an attraction is perhaps the most important message to convey successfully. The Theory of Planned Behavior allowed examination into the constituent components of these attitudes that were not positively evaluated by all cottagers and provides insight to direct future communication and awareness programs.
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