Doing our part to be BearSmart
Landcare’s Gary Lewis recalled a bear encounter in Kananaskis. "I and others watched a grizzly from behind an electric fence at the Peter Lougheed provincial park visitor center. The bear was methodical-ly excavating a small crater in a wet meadow in search of sustenance. A couple of paw strokes sent soil about ten feet vertical.”
Bears have their place at the top of nature’s hierarchy. Having bears on the landscape means that the ecosystem is healthy. Their appetite for berries mimics what picking fruit in an orchard does to in-crease root vitality, improve future fruit production and what a bird does in dispersing digested seeds to propagate new plants.
Due to their energetic requirements, they are driven to replace the 20 to 30 percent of their body weight lost over winter or to pile on pounds before denning. Bears are omnivorous, eat plants (most-ly) and meat. They are adaptable, opportunistic, intelligent and fast-learners; once they find an easy source of food they will return to it seasonally. Busting into a grain bin may prove easier and more "time-effective” than busking for blueberries.
They may stand on their hind legs to take a better look of what surrounds them, or they follow an odour of opportunity leading to a campground, rural property or an industrial site. Once rewarded with an easily obtained meal, the bear will return to investigate for more.
Bears are powerful and fast animals, despite the myth that they are clumsy and slow. Attendees on the annual West Country Ag Tour will see a bear-scarred tree and the public attending the information night presentation will have the opportunity to see some short video showing bear powerful force.
At one point in time grizzly bears inhabited the prairies, but with settlement changes bears have re-treated to eastern slopes areas, thriving in open or semi-open sections of the foothills, mountains and boreal forest while moving from high to low country depending on season and food sources. Black bears remain in aspen parkland, foothills and mountain regions, preferring the seclusion of forested areas and reluctantly venturing into the open - unless food reward trumps risk.
Any human activity on private or crown land in Clearwater County, whether it be industry, recreation or residence, poses the possibility of human-bear interaction. An increased number of encounters this past spring might be a hint of what to expect this fall.
Residents and visitors play a part in reducing the potential for bear-human conflicts. Careful manage-ment of waste, protecting pets, hobby livestock and their food sources along with fortifying buildings and livestock enclosures are some examples of residential husbandry.
Agriculture is often on the front line because it provides excellent food sources. In the spring, dead-stock and bee-hives can easily become rewarding attractants for a bear in our region. Similarly, in the fall grains or fruit trees provide an attractive source of food. To their credit many ranchers have begun implementing proactive and preventative strategies focusing on attractant management.
Changing deadstock disposal methods from decomposing to composting, retro-fitting wooden grain bins and using more electric fencing can significantly reduce the potential of negative human-bear in-teractions. Similarly, changing calving dates and location of calving areas away from susceptible areas reduces the risk of predation.
Recreation is another conflict zone, whether it be hikers, campers, hunter, fishers, sightseers, or the off-road riding community (whether on Carlisle’s or quarter horses). The best strategy to stay safe in bear country is to avoid the encounter all together. Be aware of your surroundings, travels in groups and make noise whatever possible. Avoid taking unnecessary risks, coming out of the car to take a closer picture, puts yourself and the bear at risk! Consider carrying bear spray with you when you are enjoying the great outdoors (and know how to use it).
- Wednesday, August 29 - Christenson Wellness Center at 7:00 pm – an open house for rural and urban folks with presentations and take-home information about bears. Learn more about bear biology, habitat, attractants, reward behavior, human, pet and livestock protection, and more
- Thursday, August 30 - A field day close to Rocky Mountain House
- Morning: the principles of eletric fences - protecting a beeyard and demonstration of temporary eletric fences for fruit trees and other seasonal attractantants.
- Afternoon: buildling "on-farm carcass compost” electric yard. This site ‘s objective is to be a demonstration site. The goal is to promote an effective tool to manage deadstock carcasses on farm as they represent an important source of bear-human conflict. Must RSVP by August 27 – call Ag and Community Services to register at 403-845-4444.
- Medicine River Watershed Society presents Plein Aire Painting & Photography Day with guest artist Heidi Taylor. Sunday, September 9 at Gilby Hall. Come celebrate the beauty, diversity and importance of the watershed. Artists – for more info contact Derryn (403-746-5990), Erin (403-506-7913) or Ward (780-679-2113). Friends and neighbors are invited at 5:00 pm to view the art and enjoy supper provided by the Medicine River Watershed Society.