Bear/human conflict is an issue for many municipalities. Managing attractants in town can help reduce the chance of conflict.

Bear conflict management: non-garbage attractants

The third in a series of articles dedicated to bear management. This one focuses on non-garbage attractants.

In a series of articles regarding bear management, The Free Press spoke to representatives from a variety of municipalities, all of which also face the issue of bears, including Canmore, Whistler, Revelstoke and Fernie. The intent was to cover three different topics of bear management and to dedicate an entire article to bear management tactics, including hazing, relocation and euthanization. However, attractant management is too large of a topic to cover in one article and separating it into two articles seemed to be more efficient. This week’s article focuses on attractant management including non-garbage attractants like apple trees and bird feeders while excluding garbage. Next week’s article will solely cover garbage management and bylaw enforcement.

Canmore

Canmore, Alta. has a population of 12,288 and is in very close proximity to Banff National Park, which is a benefit when it comes to bear attractant management. The town is able to utilize the resources and information that Banff has available to maintain and continue to reduce human–wildlife conflict.

Lori Rissling Wynn is a coordinator of the Canmore Bear Aware Program. Like many other municipalities, she spoke of restrictions on certain plants that are deemed to be wildlife attractants and how most residents have come to accept it.

Canmore’s attractant restrictions are built into its engineering and design guidelines and their land use bylaw specifies what some appropriate plant species for landscaping would be. The town also has a list of plants WildSmart discourages and recommends. While the design guidelines, bylaws and lists do not affect private land owners and developers many still abide by the guidelines.

“They pick the species that they know typically won’t be an issue. We have legacy trees in town, so we have crab apples and mountain ash and they have been a problem in the fall. Last year we had a pretty decent crop of crab apples and we definitely had bears in town,” Rissling Wynn said.

This year, Canmore will be starting a fruit tree removal program. While it is still in development the program they are looking to do is something similar to what Banff did last year.

“Last year [Banff] pulled together and implemented a fruit tree incentive program,” she said. “They partnered with Parks Canada and they had homeowners identify if they wanted to have a problem tree removed in their yard and they contacted an arbourist to come and take it. In the spring they are going to be replacing those trees. We are going to be looking at doing something similar here in Canmore this year as well.”

The towns program will hope to remove any attractant, but the two main vegetation attractants the town grows are mountain ash and crab apples.

Rissling Wynn also talked about how Canmore has a bird feeder ban between the months of April and October.

“They have to be brought in for that time period and then can be put out again in the fall. That’s kind of a minor thing. We have had issues in the past where they can attract different types of wildlife species, not just birds.”

Although the bylaw does not force the plant ban on private property, many private land owners have opted to agree with the attractant bans.

“The bylaw is a little weak on what is considered an animal attractant so we could look at making some amendments to that bylaw to make it more specific,” she said. “It starts to become a bit of a difficult area because really we are asking people to, in the case of fruit trees anyway,  amend their landscaping and people feel it’s their own private property, they should be able to plant what they want. So it starts to get into a bit of a property rights argument.”

Whistler

Whistler is a municipality in the heart of bear country. With a core population of over 9,800, the area receives over two million visitors in a calendar year.  The town is one of only five Bear Smart Communities within B.C. Its goal is to address the root causes of bear and human conflict. Communities must meet a list of criteria to be recognized as Bear Smart, including preparing a bear hazard assessment of the area, developing a bear-proof municipal solid waste management system and implementing “Bear Smart” bylaws, “prohibiting the provision of food to bears as a result of intent, neglect of irresponsible management of attractants”.

Whistler’s Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden spoke about the town’s plant ban, The ban is under Bylaw No. 1861, Garbage Disposal And Wildlife Attractant Bylaw of 2008. The wildlife attractant section is a five-part section and speaks to safe disposal and depositing of attractants, bird feeder seed scattering, fruit accumulation on trees and shrubs, and remedial actions. The town has a similar list to Canmore’s plant and tree ban.

“We’ve developed a short list of plants that are attractive to bears and are not being approved in any landscaping plans that require municipal approval. Again, this is to try and keep the bears out of the valley and onto the hillsides,” said the Mayor. “Our climate isn’t really conducive to fruit bearing trees because our summers tend to be fairly short but we do try and discourage people from planting any fruit-bearing trees and we talk to the landscaping companies and the garden store to ask them not to plant them, or to discourage them from planting them and the garden store from selling them.”

Revelstoke

Other than Smokey Bear Campground’s three-storey tall bear statue, Revelstoke, with does its best to limit bear-human interactions in the city of 7,129 people through programs like The Gleaning Program. Sue Davies is the Community Coordinator for the Revelstoke Bear Aware program and says the program has seen success.

“The Gleaning Program uses volunteers to harvest excess fruit from the community and donates much of the fruit to the food bank. About three years ago the amount of fruit harvested was exceeding the capacity of the food bank to receive fresh fruit so we developed the Canning program, where the fruit, mainly plums and apples, is canned or dried or made into sauce and then donated as preserved food.”

In 2010 alone, the program collected and donated more than 600 pounds of fruit. Bear Aware has also formed a relationship with The Local Foods Initiative to help continue the growth of The Gleaning Program.

“The Local Foods Initiative (LFI) and Bear Aware have begun to work together on both these projects, with Bear Aware recently taking on more of the information side of the projects,” she said. “We go door to door promoting the project and finding properties to harvest, the LFI has provided a part time harvest manager and is primary in the processing of the fruit.”

Fernie

The Free Press spoke with Kathy Murray, the Fernie WildSafe BC Community Coordinator who said there are some difficulties with attractant management in Fernie and throughout the Elk Valley. The first thing she pointed out is that “owning a fruit tree is a big responsibility in bear country. So as a homeowner, it is your responsibility – prune the tree or cut it down.”

Fernie, like many of the comparative tourism towns, sees a surplus of renters, second homeowners and seasonal locals. Murray views this as a potential challenge because there is often a disconnect on who is responsible for harvesting trees or caring for plants.

“The difficult one too is we have a lot of rental homes. People have rented a house and there are three apple trees in the backyard and I have talked to them, I say, your fruit tree is attracting wildlife and you’re going to have bears around,” she said, and the response usually is, “‘I rent the house, it’s up to the landlords.’ Well talk to your landlord. For your own personal safety, I think you should address this; also for the personal safety of the people around you. You might not care; you might want bears in your backyard. Some people do. What about the neighbours’ with the kid next door?”

The Elk Valley Homesteading Group was featured in the Mar. 24 issue of The Free Press for their apple pick program. Murray recognized the event and spoke about other members of the community looking to do similar things to reduce wildlife attractants. She also points out that the tree still falls under the responsibility of the homeowner.

“There are groups in town that are interested in volunteering to pick people’s apples. Fantastic, that’s great. That’s really great to see. However, I know in the past, I still get calls asking, ‘well do you guys still come around and pick people’s apples’, and I say no we don’t anymore. It’s the homeowners responsibility, and they say, so you’re calling me irresponsible. I say, yes,” she said.

Murray believes people want a solution, and that because people are talking about it and caring about bear destruction there will be behavioural change.

“A lot of businesses have changed to bear resistant containers and that is really good. I’ve been to places where there are apple trees attracting bears – the trees got cut down or the trees got picked. People are wanting to find solutions and work together,” she said.

 

Next week, the series will continue with an article focused on how municipalities deal with their garbage.