The Crowsnest Pass is experiencing habitat loss and fragmentation along the community corridor with country residential developments between existing communities, economic developments, and Highway 3 all posing significant barriers to wildlife movement.
Furthermore, many locals and visitors choose to recreate in and around the Crowsnest Pass because of the beautiful scenery and boundless opportunities.
The rapid increase in rural residential and vacation homes in Crowsnest Pass and the area’s growing popularity with outdoor enthusiasts has caused a rise in human-bear conflicts and destruction of habituated bears.
In response to these ongoing issues, a citizen-led Crowsnest Pass Conservation BearSmart Committee was established with support from Alberta Fish and Wildlife and the Crowsnest Conservation Society.
Becoming a BearSmart community
In conjunction with the Miistakis Institute for the Rockies, the community completed a bear hazard assessment to identify hot spot locations and primary attractants. BearSmart strategies were incorporated into municipal bylaws to address proper management of garbage and other animal attractants.
The Crowsnest Pass Hazard Assessment describes the sources of bear-human conflict in the area.
The municipal council passed a resolution to become a BearSmart community in May 2006 and programming began that summer.
BearSmart education and outreach
The Crowsnest Conservation BearSmart Committee has expanded its efforts significantly over the past few years. Engagement of citizens is ongoing through
- participation in community events like festivals/parades, trade shows and educational presentations
- one-on-one consultations with residents and business owners
- use of the local print and broadcast media
- consistent recruitment of volunteers to maintain the committee’s capacity
The committee is involved in a number of community-based programs to help people better understand bears, and to remove the things that can attract bears into the community.
Apple Tree Swap
Fruit-bearing trees are removed and replaced with an alternative tree or shrub that doesn’t attract bears.
Bear awareness and education events
Annual bear awareness and bear spray training events are presented to the public to increase personal safety when recreating in bear habitat.
During the bear season, local newspapers publish this weekly column written by members of the Crowsnest BearSmart Committee, providing residents with updates on bear activity in the area, cartoons, information on bear biology, and other reminders on how to avoid conflict with bears.
Bear-resistant Garbage Bin Loaner Program
Residents that are experiencing bear problems or are in hot-spot areas can contact the committee to borrow a bear-resistant container for free.
Community Apple Roundup and Apple Exchange Network
The BearSmart Committee and Fish and Wildlife employees organize an apple-picking event each fall. Volunteers and local students help remove this major bear attractant, and help out residents that are unable to regularly pick their ripe fruit.
An old-fashioned apple exchange is also coordinated by the BearSmart Committee to connect residents with excess apples to those looking for free apples for canning, sauces, pies and other culinary efforts.
Hot-spot bear monitoring
Volunteers work with Fish and Wildlife officers to monitor the activity of nearby bears.
Bears that linger close to the community are monitored either visually or with radio-telemetry, and then encouraged to leave when they come too close. Encouragement techniques employed by officers include loud horns and sirens, bear bangers or Karelian bear dogs.
Volunteers work with residents in areas that bears are frequenting, to promote the removal of anything on their properties that might appeal to bears.
To see how community members work with Fish and Wildlife officers in monitoring bears, see:
Community meetings and bylaw enhancement
Committee members meet with community stakeholders, business owners and residents to promote BearSmart practices.
Municipal bylaws can regulate the management of garbage, birdfeeders, fruit and other items that attract bears and other wildlife.
Challenges, successes and the future
Two of the largest challenges to the community’s education and outreach efforts are:
- ingrained negative attitudes about bears
- general unwillingness to assume responsibility for personal safety or that of neighbours, visitors, and property
As the program has been running now for several years, small advances are beginning to be seen. Changing attitudes takes time and also requires the adoption and enforcement of by-laws dealing with attractants (specifically garbage, fruit, and birdseed).
The fruit round-up with local Grade 5 students, apple exchange network and bear-proof garbage bin loan program are all well used.
There has also been great public support for workshops on bear awareness/safety and worm composting. Recently, the BearSmart Committee has been able to provide permanent solutions to bear-in-garbage problems by offering grant-subsidized, bear-resistant garbage bins for sale.
Future BearSmart activities
While significant progress has been made towards BearSmart garbage management practices through adoption of a municipal bylaw, ongoing work with the waste collection contractor, business owners, and managers of public spaces is necessary to ensure conversion to bear-proof garbage receptacles or dumpsters.
The BearSmart Committee is working to expand educational programming into the local schools and to use movable signage within the community to provide timely BearSmart messaging.
Using BearSmart in your community
A working partnership between your town leaders, government agencies, school groups, non-profit groups, and community members is necessary to facilitate community buy-in and to get the support needed to run the program.
An affiliation with a local registered charity (example: naturalists group, conservation society) may be necessary when applying to granting agencies.