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Living with Wildlife
Bears, Bushes, and Berries – Oh my!
Shepherdia berry, russet buffaloberry, Canada buffaloberry, soapberry, silver buffaloberry…The berries found on the Shepherdia canadensis bush are known by many names, however, bears see those berries as only one thing: high-energy, nutritious, and delicious food!
Though it seems as if summer has only just begun, bears are spending their time preparing for winter. Their location in the valley is determined largely by the presence of seasonal high-energy food sources. They are out foraging for these foods in order to fatten up for hibernation. Bears lose up to 35% of their body weight during this time so it is critical to their survival that they eat a whole lot during the fruitful summer months. It has been documented that bears can eat up to 200,000 berries a day!
Eating this many berries is quite the task and bears can get so engrossed in it that they are not very aware of what is going on around them. Even if you are aware of your surroundings while recreating by looking for signs of bears (fresh tracks, scat, diggings), making noise frequently, and traveling in groups, a bear may not notice you until you surprise them at their feeding spot. Shepherdia likes to grow in and along the edges of open areas which includes pathways, meadows, edges of residential areas, and water bodies – all areas where humans live and recreate! Thus, we must be especially vigilant to avoid bear encounters during berry season. In the Bow Valley the berry season usually runs from mid-July until the end of August.
The Town of Canmore and Province of Alberta are doing their part to keep both the bears and ourselves safe by removing Shepherdia bushes from high human-use areas. To date these areas include Rundleview, Quarry Lake, Three Sisters Campground, Bow River Campground and along trails in the Canmore Nordic Centre and at Grassi Lakes Trail. It is likely that bears may still come to these areas to check for available foods. When they find that the food is not there, they will move to other areas where berries are more abundant.
Individuals can be WildSmart by learning how to identify Shepherdia bushes and removing them from their property. The berries are yellow, orange or bright red in colour and cluster in bunches on the female plants. However, the easiest way to recognize a Shepherdia bush is to look at the oval shaped leaves. There are little reddish brown dots located on the silvery underside of the leaves of both male and female plants. If you remember this, you can identify a Shepherdia bush even if it is not berry season. Many residences have Shepherdia growing in their backyards and gardens. These bushes become a prime attraction to bears especially in residential areas adjacent to the wildland fringe. Bears feeding in private yards create a public safety concern.
While Shepherdia is a prime choice for bears, remember that they enjoy many other berries from bushes such as Saskatoon, Dogwood, Pin cherry, Chokecherry, and Wolf Willow. The same need for vigilance applies when recreating in areas with these bushes as well.
If we all take the initiative to be WildSmart about Shepherdia we can keep the Bow Valley safe for the bears and for ourselves.
For more information on Shepherdia removal, please contact:
WildSmart is a proactive conservation strategy that encourages efforts by all to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions. We thank our sponsors and the community for their support; we could not do this without you.
Residents are encouraged to report any Bow Valley sightings of bear, cougar or aggressive elk to 403-591-7755. For sightings in Banff National Park, call 403-762-1470. For all public safety emergencies call 9-1-1.