The bears — currently hibernating in this enclosure — will get some extra leg room thanks to a grant from the Aviva Community Fund.

The bears — currently hibernating in this enclosure — will get some extra leg room thanks to a grant from the Aviva Community Fund.

Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter an Aviva winner

The Smithers-based wildlife shelter is getting a cash infusion from the Aviva Community Fund

Betty Gelean says she hardly noticed her home filling up with bears. Over time, she said they got into the decor in every room— right down to her bear-print shower curtain.

When Gelean first heard about the rescued bears at Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter outside Smithers, she knew she wanted to help but couldn’t make a donation.

Instead, the 71-year-old book reviewer put her writing talent and her long authors email list to good use.

Those efforts paid off Jan. 26, when NLWS won $140,000 from the Aviva Community Fund—a $1 million community grants contest that Gelean signed up the shelter for.

“I can tell you it’s been a real roller-coaster,” she said, adding that over 7,000 people voted for the shelter online.

“We had voters from every continent except Antarctica.”

Angelika Langen, who has run the shelter for 23 years with her husband Peter, said she is “blown away” by the win.

“Betty really deserves the credit for this,” she said. “I really didn’t think we had a chance.”

People come from all over the world to help the 30 to 50 injured and orphaned animals that are rehabilitated at the shelter each years.

Many of the shelter’s guests are bears, and NLWS is the first B.C. shelter approved for grizzly cubs. Volunteers who work with the bears commit to a minimum six-month stay, Langen said, to avoid changing handlers before the bears return to the wild.

After polling her current and former volunteers, Langen found everyone agreed on one thing the shelter badly needs.

“Pressure washer!” was at the top of all the volunteers’ lists, she said, laughing. NWLS has never had power or running water, she said, and that has meant scrubbing animal cages by mop and buckets.

“It will make it easier on people and animals alike,” she said.

Langen and her husband trained as animal keepers and worked in German zoos before moving to B.C. and starting Northern Lights. In the last few years, Langen said the shelter has taken in a lot more wildlife as its grizzly cub program and rescued Kermode bear won extra media attention.

“We’ve never been in a situation where we’ve had to turn an animal away,” she said. “But you can always make it better.”

As well as taking in more animals, Northern Lights has also been expanding opportunities for university research.

Langen said they are currently hosting an ongoing study by ICBC, BC Hydro and others to see if they can reduce highway collisions with moose.

In the study, researchers from UNBC collected roadside plants from various stretches of highway, some of which were known as areas with a high number of collisions. The researchers then laid out piles of the carefully selected clippings to see which ones the moose would eat.

“Some of the piles they would eat like candy, and others they wouldn’t like at all,” Langen said. From there, she said the researchers found that if road crews brush the side of the highway at certain times of year—making sure the tastiest clippings are buried in winter snow—it may reduce accidents.

With studies like these, Langen said the shelter can help an entire species of animal, as well as humans.