Town officials hope new bylaw will deter increasing bear activity in Canmore

·3 min read
A grizzly bear eats buffalo berries in this handout photo from Parks Canada. (Alex Taylor/Parks Canada - image credit)
A grizzly bear eats buffalo berries in this handout photo from Parks Canada. (Alex Taylor/Parks Canada - image credit)

Officials in Canmore say there has been increased bear activity around the Alberta town as the animals search for food before winter — and are hoping a new bylaw will help to discourage it.

"The end of August, beginning of September is when the bears are hunting for berries," said Caitlin Miller, manager of protective services with the Town of Canmore.

"And there's not a lot of berries up top, so they're coming down and looking [around town]."

But Canmore's new Community Standards Bylaw — which came into effect on Aug. 16 — seeks to give bears less to munch on.

It restricts locals from planting new fruit-bearing vegetation, though existing fruit trees and bushes are allowed to remain.

Miller said residents can also be fined for letting fruit accumulate on their properties, and are restricted from leaving wildlife attractants like food outside.

"It's not enough to pick up the fruit once it falls off the tree. They need to be actively taking it off the tree as it ripens," she said.

Educational compliance

The bylaw is a consolidation of several that existed previously, and has been made more general so that it's easier to enforce, Miller said.

As for those enforcing it, their work has included public education, proactive patrols and more recently, a few tickets.

Entry-level fines are $250 and can go up to $10,000. But the educational component comes first, Miller said.

"We want to make sure people know what the rules are and why they're in place," she said.

That means helping people understand that food sources such as barbecues and pet foods can attract an unwanted visitors, Miller said.

Big draws also include choke cherries, crab apples, mountain ash berries and buffalo berries.

Dave Gilson/CBC
Dave Gilson/CBC

Resources are also available for locals who need to get fruit-bearing trees and bushes into shape. For example, the Town of Canmore offers a Voluntary Fruit Tree Removal Incentive Program.

Meanwhile Wildsmart, a conservation program in the Bow Valley, has a free tool-lending library that includes pruning and fruit picking gear.

"This bylaw was a very important one for us," Miller said.

"We want to make sure that it's a safe and livable community, and that Canmore's doing everything [it] can to maintain that wildlife-human coexistence."

Wildlife-human coexistence 

So, what exactly is at stake if that coexistence isn't maintained?

For starters, experts say wildlife can potentially be hit by vehicles — or get a taste for food and keep coming back.

"Often when wildlife come into town or get too close to people, they pay the price by getting relocated or destroyed," said Nick de Ruyter, program director at WildSmart.

"And relocation of mentioned before is only about 30 per cent successful, and it's even less successful in the fall before hibernation."

As for people, the danger is … well, bears.

"There's kids riding their bikes, walking to school, people walking around neighbourhoods, and they're not necessarily prepared for those encounters," he said.

"I think a good combination of education for enforcement is key to kind of help change behaviour and increase compliance."