Crowsnest council bears down on wildlife attractants

As a mountain community, interaction with wildlife in Crowsnest Pass is a fairly regular occurrence. However, a recent string of negative bear encounters had the municipal council discussing what changes could be made to improve the level of safety for both human and wild residents.

Coun. Dean Ward brought up the issue as a notice of motion during the Sept. 27 regular council meeting.

The first thing Ward suggested was increasing the fines for repeat offenders of the garbage bylaw.

“Personally I believe part of the solution is enforcement — and I understand the issue of one cop and stuff, but there’s still a lot of people that put their garbage out at night,” he said. “I know our guys are already paying attention to it, but we need to do more of that.”

“I have no problem with education, but repeat offenders need to pay. I’m getting tired of listening about bears getting put to sleep,” he continued. “It’s not good because people don’t want to put their garbage out at the proper time.”

Another option Ward wanted the municipality to investigate was providing bear bins to residents, including the specialized garbage truck used to pick them up. Ward also suggested administration could communicate with other mountain communities to see how they handled the issue, along with continuing discussions with BearSmart Association.

Coun. Vicki Kubik agreed council should look at raising fines, as well as establishing — and communicating — better standards for residents with other animal attractants such as urban chickens and beehives.

“I really believe in protecting our wildlife. I mean, we’re naturally rewarding, that’s who we are in the Crowsnest Pass,” she said. “It’s a collective problem.”

Attractants aside, Coun. Glen Girhiny said another aspect of the issue was people bragging on social media about having a bear in their yard.

“Don’t broadcast it all over God’s green earth because there’s 400 other people that want to do the same thing, and that just causes a stampede and it gets the bear into a bad spot,” he said. “We as a community need to come together and realize that we do live in bear country. My motto is ‘They were here first.’ ”

The increased tourist interest in Crowsnest Pass, added Coun. Doreen Glavin, was also something that needed to be considered.

“This is a compounded problem. We talk about bringing tourism into our community — we have so many people going into our trails, into our back country — that affects the wildlife population coming into town.”

That being said, however, Glavin said the actions of residents were ultimately responsible for the bulk of negative bear-human interactions.

“We should be banning our people from putting stuff out before pickup day,” said Glavin. “My daughter has had five different bears bring garbage from the neighbours that they’ve had [out] on Sunday, and garbage pickup isn’t till Tuesday, and the bear is bringing the garbage to her lawn. She has them on camera.”

Setting fines at $1,000 for a first offence and then $5,000 for a second, she added, would help encourage more responsible behaviour.

“Then maybe people would smarten up a little,” Glavin said.

Coun. Dave Filipuzzi said one other piece the municipality needed to follow up on was the drop in provincial funding for non-lethal bear interventions.

“Their policy changed, and it wasn’t a humane one,” he said. “Our officer ran out of funding to even buy bear bangers. A lot that happened this year could’ve been prevented.”

Council ended up directing administration to bring the fees, rates and charges bylaw to a future meeting to discuss raising animal attractant fines for repeat offenders.

Administration was also directed to gather information on how other communities handle bear concerns, obtain information regarding bear bins for residents, what further recommendations BearSmart might have, and what could be done to mitigate urban hens as an attractant.

A letter was also sent to Alberta Environment and Parks regarding concerns with the reduced funding.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze