Attractants are a major source of interaction between bears and humans, and since 2007, several attractant management strategies have been identified to reduce these conflicts. Attractant management is essentially a food management program designed to lessen potentially dangerous wildlife activity in human use areas such as neighbourhoods, schools, campgrounds and trails. This is completed through removing both natural and unnatural attractants, allowing bears and other animals to feed in safer locations, such as habitat patches and other undeveloped areas.
Attractants include natural food such as fruit and berry bearing shrubs and trees, and unnatural foods such as garbage, compost, bird feeders, pets and livestock.
(Photo J. Honeyman)
Buffaloberry (sheperdia canadensis) is a highly sought after food for grizzly and black bears. Grizzly bears in particular can eat up to 20,000 berries a day. In the Bow Valley, buffalo berries ripen in mid-July, and make up a large part of the bear diet until late August. Crop size fluctuates greatly from year to year. The berries are most abundant where the forest canopy has ‘opened up’, a practice commonly seen near developments, trails and other man-made structures. The berries, which are bright red, yellow and orange and measure 4 mm wide, grow upon shrubs that can reach 1.5 metres tall, with elliptic to narrowly oval dark green leaves.
Other fruit bearing bushes such as dogwoods, chokecherries and wolf willow are also known to attract bears. They also grow near high human use areas such as parks, neighbourhoods, campgrounds and trails.
Bears can seek out these foods, regardless of their proximity to human activity; they can develop a high tolerance to human presence if there is food available. This is one example of how bears can become habituated. This means bears are often seen near roadsides, campgrounds and other residential areas. From a public safety perspective, bears can become so engrossed in eating, they become unaware of human activity, and can be easily startled. This can elicit a defensive type response from the bear, particularly females with cubs.
Berry removal programs eliminate attractants from human use areas, allowing bears to seek food elsewhere, such as in less developed areas within Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country. In the Bow Valley, Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park, bush clearing and prescribed burns for the Mountain Pine Beetle programs are creating more open spaces and habitat for buffalo berry.
According to the Bear Hazard Assessment, natural vegetation is the number one cause of human/wildlife conflict in the Bow Valley, accounting for 57 per cent of all incidents. (Honeyman, 2007).
Type of Food Attractant Involved in Bear/Human Conflicts (2001 to 2005)
Source: Bow Valley Bear Hazard Assessment, 2007
Natural Attractant Removal
WildSmart, in partnership with Alberta Parks, Alberta SRD and the Town of Canmore launched a berry removal program in 2007. The program primarily targeted Buffalo berries, but also removed dogwood and choke cherry bushes. In Canmore, bushes were removed from the Rundleview subdivision and the Quarry Lake area. On provincial lands, berry bushes were removed on select trails at the Canmore Nordic Centre, Bow River and Three Sisters Campground and Grassi Lakes trail. The berries were removed on 10 metres of both sides of the trails. Developers have worked to remove buffalo berries from their golf courses. Homeowners are also encouraged to remove buffalo berries from their property.
Buffaloberry removal areas for the Town of Canmore, 2008
Unnatural Attractant Removal
Garbage is another major attractant for bears, however the Town of Canmore and the MD of Bighorn have taken a proactive approach to eliminating these conflicts. In 1999 and 2000 respectively, Canmore and the MD of Bighorn installed bear-proof garbage bins, removing a major attractant. The municipalities also eliminated curbside garbage pick-up, greatly reducing the number of bears coming into town. Canmore went a step further, banning bird feeders between April 1 and November 30. The reduced conflict also cut the number of bears that had to be killed because of conflicts with people.
While the regulations have greatly reduced human/wildlife conflicts, other unnatural attractants are still found in town. These include unsecured recycling, non-functioning bear proof garbage bins, pets, pet food, barbeques, compost and others. All of these attractants have been linked to human/wildlife conflict in the Bow Valley and create a concern for public safety and wildlife safety.
When a bear feeds on an unnatural attractant, it can become habituated and will continue to seek out similar food sources. Eventually, these bears are relocated or destroyed. The public must stay informed and remain vigilant in removing these attractants to avoid future conflicts with bears and other wildlife.
Alberta Ecotrust (2007), Environment Canada Ecoaction (2007-2009), Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (2008), Town of Canmore (2007-2009).
References / Research:
Honeyman, J. 2007. Bow Valley Bear Hazard Assessment (PDF document: 3.8 MB)