One of the last black bear habitats in the Vancouver area is doomed

Black Bear near Minnekhada Regional Park, Coquitlam, BC, Canada

It’s now December, which means most black bears have gone into hibernation. Normally I wouldn’t reveal in depth information on areas where black bears are active, but since this was likely the last year that they will be able to roam around near humans, I feel comfortable revealing my secrets. Most lower mainlanders know that Minnekhada Regional Park is known to have black bears, but you would be lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you feel around bears) to find one in the actual park. That’s because they tend to hang around on the outskirts, where berries are in abundance and salmon spawn freely in the creek.

Black bears are smart. They avoid humans, and spaces where humans congregate, unless it’s absolutely necessary for them to be there. Typically only when they need to find sustenance. Due south of Minnekhada lies over 200 hectares of commercial berry farms, a short jaunt from where the bears of the region den. And beside that, a creek known to have one of the highest concentrations of spawning salmon in the area. That being Partington Creek, which also happens to be the name of a new community slated for development in Coquitlam, BC.

Partington Creek runs adjacent to Cedar Drive (lower right corner of the first map above) before they branch off in different directions. The spot where they branch off, where Cedar Drive continues west and Partington Creek runs north-ish, is the single best spot in the entire lower mainland to view bears catching and eating salmon. During late fall, if you plant yourself at that corner and wait at least an hour, you’re almost guaranteed to see a black bear. You might even see a momma with some cubs. On a nice, dry weekend day, you will likely also see dozens of human onlookers, many of which (myself included) hanging on to a camera with a huge telephoto lens to capture some amazing photos of these beasts in action.

Momma black bear with two cubs on the bank of Partington Creek, Coquitlam, BC

This is prime black bear watching. It’s the perfect spot, with a good separation between the bears in the creek or on the banks of it and the humans on the side of the road, behind a concrete barricade. But that road the humans are on? It’ll be gone by next year. And that beautiful treed creek bank the bears are standing on in the photo above? That’ll be gone a few years from now.

Cedar Drive is currently in the process of being upgraded. Infill has already been laid a few meters south of where the current road is, as it needs to settle for a while before the road can be constructed. The road is being elevated to prevent the flooding issues that happen every November. Last month I stood in water 6 inches deep, watching the creek that was several feet higher than normal and spilling out into the road, to see if any bears would brave the torrential rain to grab a snack (spoiler alert; they didn’t, and my clothes were soaked through for nothing). The new road will be almost 2 metres higher.

It’s also being shifted several metres further south to make room for a new riparian area next to the creek and a very necessary Multi-Use Pathway. I’ve had a few too many close calls walking or biking down Cedar Drive to get to the viewing area (especially from an angry NIMBY dude who lives on the road and likes to swerve his massive pickup truck at anyone holding a camera, but that’s a story for another time). This new riparian area that will replace the current Cedar Drive is needed because the current natural riparian area on the opposite side of the creek is about to be developed to hell and back. Suburban hell, that is.

See all those beautiful trees northwest of Partington Creek? Say bye bye.

Cedar Drive would currently be considered a rural area, but not for long. I’ve watched dozens of bears emerge from the forest on the northwest side of Partington Creek, but eventually that forest will be replaced with beautiful, modern, and completely unaffordable townhouses. Countless bear dens will be dug up or paved over, leaving those countless bears to migrate elsewhere. And for what, exactly? More useless urban sprawl that no one can actually afford? We have no shortage of housing. In Canada there’s about 10 times as many empty homes as there are homeless people. So why are we destroying more and more natural areas to spread humans out further and further from each other while driving wildlife further and further away?

If we need more housing units, we need to build upwards in urban areas instead of sprawling further outwards. We need density, not detached housing. We need more affordable, low income housing, not more luxury townhouses. The median household income in Coquitlam is around $75k per year. Other townhomes from the same developer in a similar area are going for over a million dollars each, minimum. It is recommended to have a household income of at least $250k a year to be able to afford a million dollar mortgage. Once again… who are these townhouses for?

They’re definitely not for me, since I can’t even afford to rent a basement suite in Coquitlam anymore. I was paying $1450 a month in rent, which is completely unsustainable. I have had to resign myself to the fact that I will probably never be able to own a home in my lifetime. And I’m far from the only person in my generation coming to that realization. It’s not normal for an entire generation to pray for the housing bubble to burst like it did in 2008 just so they can maybe own a home one day.

This is why the entire proposed Northwest Burke Mountain community in Coquitlam is such a joke. A horrible, cruel joke. Living near such natural beauty is one of the only ways I can take my mind off of the state of our country, and I know I’m not alone there. Yet the City of Coquitlam is allowing and enabling developers to rip more forests apart to make more luxury housing that we won’t be able to utilize. They’re fine with destroying active wildlife habitats to appease the tiny minority of people that can afford to live in these new developments.

A very wet black bear looking for fish in Partington Creek, Coquitlam, BC

So where will the bears go once their habitat is destroyed for the Partington Creek development? Well, let’s see. Cedar Drive is connected to Victoria Drive through a short road called Gilleys Trail. It’s surrounded by trees on both sides and runs adjacent to Partington Creek, with just a few rural properties scattered through. But wait, isn’t the land east of Gilleys Trail going to be turned into a massive outdoor sports complex? Of course it is. After all, that’s the real reason Cedar Drive is being replaced, it’s so they can account for the majorly increased traffic in the area. Have another look at that Burke Mountain development map above. The future Gilley’s Trail Park is marked on the right side.

Black bear munching on grass east of Gilleys Trail, Coquitlam, BC

What does a sports complex bring to the area? Right, children. And who carts those children out there? Soccer moms. And what do soccer moms do? They call conservation or the police if a bear or other wild animal even so much as breaks a twig within a kilometre radius. A sports complex will need to be bear free for the safety of everyone playing or watching sports, which means no bears will be allowed in the vicinity. And why is this sports complex needed? Oh, of course, because the currently rural land around it will soon be full of whatever rich families can afford million dollar townhouses, and those rich families have nothing but time.

Here’s a good opportunity to drop a friendly reminder about BC Conservation. They almost never relocate bears, coyotes, or cougars. BC conservation ‘destroys’ (murders) about 500 bears a year. They will also leave behind cubs that they deem old enough to survive on their own after destroying the momma, many of which die immediately after. Unless you absolutely must, never call conservation about a bear. Bears mind their own business, and so should you. Thank you.

So the Gilleys Trail area is out, and Minnekhada is always full of hikers so that won’t work… Where do the bears go? Widgeon Marsh to the northeast? Haha no, that’s being turned into a regional park. An area that was previously only accessible by non-motorized watercraft will soon have a road, a parking lot, and a hell of a lot more people. Another habitat destroyed for the benefit of humans and the detriment of wildlife.

If you care at all about wildlife, especially bears, you should not support these new developments. They are completely unnecessary and unwanted by the vast majority of Coquitlam and Greater Vancouver residents. Let the municipal government know what you think about these developments and the heavy impacts they have on wildlife. Ask them why they aren’t creating more density in the urban areas of town. Ask them where the affordable housing is and why they think we need more luxury million dollar townhomes.

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