The District of Port Hardy deserves a bear hug.

That’s because after years of hard work and dedication, it’s officially become Bear Smart.

“It was the commitment of the volunteers working with the community that led to achieving the Bear Smart designation,” says Mayor Dennis Dugas. “I am so proud of our Bear Smart Port Hardy Committee and community for what they have accomplished as we work towards reducing the number of bears destroyed. This is only the beginning of what Port Hardy needs to do to become truly bear smart.”

The Bear Smart Community Program is a voluntary, preventative conservation measure that encourages communities, businesses and individuals to work together to reduce conflicts with bears.

It was designed by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, in partnership with the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and is based on six criteria that communities must meet in order to achieve Bear Smart status.

Port Hardy has a large population of black bears that frequently travel through the community to access the rivers and green space.

To address the ongoing challenges with bears, a bear hazard assessment was completed in 2009, followed by a Human-Bear Conflict Management Plan.

Several policies were put into place from the plan and assessment, such as bylaws to manage garbage and a wildlife-resistant solid-waste management system that includes bear-resistant containers.

The initiative towards becoming a Bear Smart community then gained momentum in 2016 with the formation of the Bear Smart Port Hardy Committee, which was made up of a councillor, staff member and community volunteers.

The community has also developed an education and outreach program that includes presentations at elementary schools, brochures, a booth at local fairs and door-to-door campaigns.

Port Hardy is the ninth community in the province to obtain official Bear Smart status, joining Kamloops, Squamish, Lions Bay, Whistler, Port Alberni, Naramata, New Denver and Coquitlam.