Faces & Places: Gillian Sanders

Gillian and Oso volunteered with the Washington State Karelian Bear Dog program. This black bear was trapped in a suburban neighbourhood after eating birdseed. After trapping and collaring, the bear was released in a nearby wild area and the Karelians were used to push her away from people. The bear adjusted to her new area and appeared with a healthy cub the following spring, and has stayed out of conflict since. Photo submitted

Gillian Sanders grew up in Vancouver and has been homesteading in the North Kootenay Lake area since 1994. While raising honeybees and small livestock near the Kaslo landfill/transfer station from 1997 to 2007, Gillian learned that bears (even those that were conditioned to garbage) could be easygoing neighbours provided they didn’t find food at her farm.

After the closure of the landfill in 2001, bear conflicts in Kaslo increased and Gillian initiated the Kaslo Bear Smart Program. In 2002, she began working in the field of grizzly bear conservation while helping with DNA population surveys in the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy and the South Selkirks. In 2007, she began installing electric fencing to prevent grizzly bear conflicts on farms in the Meadow Creek area and worked as a commercial bear viewing guide from 2006 to 2011.

While working as a bear guide, she was able to spend hours observing wild bear behaviour and was inspired to focus her conservation efforts on increasing tolerance and appreciation for bears.

n 2007 Gillian began her MA in Environmental Education and Communication, with her thesis research identifying bridges and barriers to coexisting with grizzly bears in the rural community of Meadow Creek. The juxtaposition of the Meadow Creek Kokanee Spawning Channel with human residences was formerly the source of many conflicts, with bears accessing garbage, fruit trees, killing livestock and eating livestock feed, and other attractants.

When bears kill livestock and create property damage, it is difficult to raise tolerance for their presence on private properties. With the support of various local funding agencies, Gillian’s work in the area has helped to reduce these conflicts and increase appreciation for local bears.

She also developed a strong interest in non-lethal bear management and along with her Karelian Bear Dog, Oso, has participated on agency projects in Montana, Washington, Alberta, and the Yukon to research and bring useful strategies home to the Kootenays.

Since 2013, Gillian has expanded her work throughout the region as coordinator of Grizzly Bear Coexistence Solutions. This project aims to improve grizzly bear-human coexistence through education, collaboration, and use of practical tools. The project can provide a cost-share to install effective electric fencing to deter bears from farmyards while allowing them to move safely through low elevation habitats. Gillian works closely with hunters, farmers, ranchers, recreationalists, environmental groups, and government to promote effective tools and education that enable people to reduce conflicts with bears and to ensure the long-term persistence of healthy populations of grizzly bears in B.C.

Click here to learn more about Grizzly Bear Coexistence Solutions.