The District of Sparwood is exploring a handful of municipal initiatives to reduce the risk of human-bear conflict in the area, off the back of a rough year in 2021 when there were 17 habituated bears destroyed in the district.
In a presentation to a committee of the whole on Apr. 5, director of community services Melissa Wiklund detailed four suggested strategies for inclusion in the district’s wildlife management strategy that would hopefully reduce attractants and help avoid a repeat of 2021, when 17 black bears were destroyed by Conservation Officers in Sparwood, and a further 14 were destroyed in Fernie in what was a spike year for bear deaths.
Sparwood was also the location where a vigilante took it upon themselves to shoot a habituated female bear with a small-calibre rifle, seriously injuring her and making her a danger to the community. Conservation Officers shot her, and her two cubs, because her injury made her more desperate to find food sources.
First up, the district is considering creating its own attractant tree removal program, where the district would assist residents with unwanted fruit-bearing trees in their removal and replacement with different trees that do not attract bears.
Currently, the district has a little over $10K allotted to an ‘adopt a tree’ program, and those funds could be directed towards removing fruit trees.
Fruit trees are one of the primary attractants for bears in the area, with fruit left unpicked becoming a reliable food-source for bears.
Related to the tree removal program is a suggestion to tap local volunteers to collect fruit from unmanaged trees.
A third initiative suggested is a pilot program to consider communal bear-resistant waste bins.
“The pilot would see community waste collection bins installed in key targeted areas of residential density to address waste storage and overflow in wildlife corridors,” reads the staff report.
Areas targeted would include neighbourhoods with a high turnover of residents, and where residents work irregular hours (and miss garbage collection windows as a result).
The community bins suggestion was noted as needing work, as the placement of large bins would require cooperation of property owners, who would also be responsible for ensuring the bins were not used to dump excess waste which should instead be taken to the transfer station.
The fourth suggestion is the development of a new communications strategy called “Welcome to wildlife” aimed at newer residents, with a goal to educate them on the types of wildlife they could encounter around town, and ways to reduce risk.
During discussion, the majority of district councillors indicated support for the ideas, which will be further developed by staff to be considered for adoption at a later date.
Only councillor Ron Saad indicated opposition, saying he disagreed with every idea, implying instead that the district do nothing, adding that “I have this view that if you don’t report the bear, the bear doesn’t die.”
The rest of the council were happy with each idea, with Mayor David Wilks saying that it was important for locals to report bears around town so that the relevant authorities could monitor them for any dangerous activity, or if they were in dangerous locations, adding that the bears themselves were doing nothing wrong, but improper attractant management was the issue.
“If you see a bear you have to let someone know. We hate to see bears destroyed … but we’ve got to try to do better.”
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