Fernie’s new apple pick program hopes to reduce the number of bears venturing into city limits to find food.

Residents launch grassroots apple pick program

Fernie homeowners may have received or picked up a pamphlet over the summer from the Fernie Apple pick program.

Fernie homeowners may have received or picked up a pamphlet over the summer from the Fernie Apple pick program (FApp) from one of the program’s volunteers who took to the streets to offer their service. FApp will go to homes that have unmanaged apple trees and will harvest the trees in an attempt to reduce human wildlife conflicts in Fernie.

The founder of Elk Valley Homesteading and coordinator of FApp Rachel Dortman believes that the program is an obvious need for Fernie.

“Fernie is smack dab in the middle of bear country. Because of this, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are not luring bears and other wildlife into city limits,” she said. “Once a bear is conditioned to eating unsecured garbage or fruit off of apple trees it becomes a death sentence for the animal. Our goal is to assist people in disposing of these apples which are an easy food source for bears.”

Dortman believes that Fernie’s mindset needs to change to help curb bears coming into the city. Last year, 20 bears were destroyed in Fernie.

“I was devastated at the number of bears that had to be destroyed last year. Because the berry crops were so poor we saw an increase, I believe, of bears coming into town getting into garbage and dumpsters, and hanging out in apple trees eating,” she said. “If our behaviour around garbage and apple trees doesn’t change, it’s a matter of time before someone becomes seriously injured by a bear. I saw a need in the community to have an apple pick program for assisting people with their trees. Thus, with the help of my friends and volunteers, the Fernie Apple pick program was created.”

So far, there are seven properties that have signed up for the program, and according to Dortman, people are signing up for a variety of reasons.

“We have one person with a broken leg, a few seniors, and one renter that needs help. We are going to give priority to people with a genuine need for assistance [over] everyone else,” she said. “As things have been ramping up I have about 10 volunteers that are very interested in usable apples for jelly, pie, apple sauce, etc. We’re also looking for people willing to share their apples regardless of whether or not they need assistance picking them.”

Dortman hopes that FApp will become a yearly endeavour, although she adds in an ideal world, the program would not be necessary.

“Ideally, I would encourage people to remove their fruit trees if they cannot manage them. In the packages there is a list of non-fruit bearing trees that would be better suited for our area. In the future I’d like to create a ‘trade a tree’ program where apple trees are removed and replaced with non-fruiting trees. It would be encouraging as new development pushes even further into bear country that developers restrict the planting of fruiting trees. With all the rental houses in Fernie, it would be nice if the property owners removed apple trees or managed the apples instead of leaving it to the renters,” she said. “I feel people have been very supportive. There was a few people questioning volunteers peeking into yards and over back alley fences, but once they stated what they were doing the program was received well. Overall I haven’t heard any complaints.”

There are already around 20 people interested in volunteering for FApp. Dortman notes that volunteers can choose how many properties and what dates they want to work. Property owners and volunteers can take as many apples as they like from the pick program. According to Dortman, the remaining apples after the program has finished will be offered to ranchers in the area to feed their livestock. This initative aims to be a no waste program and all of the apples will be used or recycled.

Dortman believes that any help is greatly appreciated and that there are bound to be places that FApp has not yet contacted. She also appreciates and recognizes all the support from the community and the businesses that have enabled the program to work thus far.

“Hopefully we’re able to reach the majority of properties with trees but in areas without alleys there’s bound to be places we’ve missed so if you don’t receive a package at your door in the next few days contact me and I’ll personally deliver one,” she said. “If you’d like to volunteer or need help with managing apples please contact me [at] 250-423-8665 [or] gizmoe_dort@hotmail.com.”