The City of Fernie has launched a new program to remove poorly maintained fruit trees from public lands to reduce animal attractants in the community.
According to a Sept. 29 release from the city, the Elk Valley and surrounding area has the most grizzly bear conflicts in British Columbia.
In 2021, 31 bears were killed in the Elk Valley by conservation officers due to habituation or injury. Twelve black bears and two grizzlies were killed in and around Fernie, with 17 black bears killed in and around Sparwood.
“Removing fruit trees, particularly from our populated areas, is an important step we need to take in improving how we manage human-wildlife interactions.”
Following the record year for bear mortality in 2021, Fernie council discussed ways to reduce attractants, including fruit tree removal, replacement and electric fencing.
On May 16, 2022, council heard from local wildlife biologist Clayton Lamb about human-wildlife co-existence in Fernie.
Lamb said that the City of Fernie has made good progress towards reducing bears’ access to garbage through bear resistant bins, but that there are still a lot of conflicts between people and bears over fruit trees.
The solution to unpicked fruit trees, according to Lamb, is to pick them before bears get the fruit (usually before they are ripe), electric fence the tree, or remove the tree.
“To be leaders in coexistence I recommended that the City of Fernie remove the crab apple trees downtown as well as an apple tree in Annex park. These trees were generally not suitable for electric fencing and required constant maintenance to pick, often leaving some level of bear attractant during portions of the year,” Lamb said.
City staff have begun to remove fruit trees so that in the spring, the stumps and roots can be removed, and new trees can be planted in their place.
Andrea Fletcher, Elk Valley coordinator for WildSafe BC, said she is really excited to see and be a part of some of the steps Fernie is taking to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the valley.
“This is the direction the city has gone, and we at WildSafeBC are pretty stoked to see it!” she said.
“The downtown trees will be replaced with something equally green and beautiful, but also safer for our community and therefore our wildlife as well.
“If you find yourself with a tree that you can no longer manage properly, please reach out to WildSafeBC for more details on our grant program!”