In recent years, agricultural producers in southwest Alberta have noticed an increase in bear activity near their ranches and farms. Bears can be attracted to the many food sources available on agricultural properties, heightening the potential for conflict with the people living and working there.
Community members, non-governmental organizations, industry and government agencies have come together to develop preventative techniques to avoid conflict with bears.
This helps ensure the continued conservation of the species, safe living and working conditions for ranchers and their families, and the minimization of financial losses.
An introductory video on the Cowboys and Carnivores project offers an overview of monitoring carnivore habitats in southern Alberta:
Learn more about how Cardston-area ranchers and their families have adapted as grizzlies have expanded their range into the Cardston area.
How have they done it?
By forming partnerships
In southwest Alberta, there are a number of community-based, rancher-driven groups engaged in projects to reduce conflicts with large carnivores.
Understanding that much more can be accomplished in partnership than in isolation, each group has recruited a network to support their goals.
The community groups work, in varying capacities, with municipalities, the provincial government (through the BearSmart program), industry and non-profit environmental groups.
The Blackfoot Challenge, a landowner-based watershed stewardship group in Montana, has also provided southwest Alberta producers advice on ways to coexist with large carnivores.
To learn more about Waterton Biosphere Reserve, which supports projects in the area:
By managing deadstock
Changes to federal agricultural policy after the BSE outbreak made it more difficult and expensive for producers to remove livestock carcasses to rendering facilities.
Livestock carcasses that couldn't be removed were then left in nearby bone yards to decompose naturally. For bears that may have otherwise been just passing through the area, the sudden availability of protein-rich meals made venturing into human spaces worth the risk. This led to a marked increase in conflicts between bears and agricultural producers.
Deadstock storage bins have been installed on properties in Cardston County and the M.D. of Pincher Creek. Local ranchers can store livestock carcasses in the bear-resistant storage bins until they can be picked up by the rendering company.
A deadstock composting facility has also been constructed in Cardston County.
With financial support from a variety of sources, this facility is modelled after similar facilities in Montana. Deadstock are removed from ranches in bear territory and brought in for composting. The carcasses compost in few weeks, emit virtually no odours that would attract bears or scavengers, and the facility operates on a very small budget.
Financial support has come from various agencies to reimburse ranchers for the costs of transporting carcasses to rendering plants.
By fortifying grain bins
Traditional grain bins provide little resistance to a hungry bear, and the livestock feed inside offers the bear an easy, high-calorie reward
To effectively fortify their grain bins, producers have relied on each other's expertise, as well as the experience of those from the Blackfoot Challenge.
By monitoring carnivore activity
Understanding the nature and amount of carnivore activity in the area is an important step in creating strategies for co-existence.
Cowboys and Carnivores Cowboys and Carnivores is a partnership between the Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership and the Miistakis Institute. This online project gives local producers a chance to record and share information about bear, wolf and cougar activity in the area.
Learn more about the Cowboys and Carnivores partnership:
Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project is a multi-year project that monitors changes in the area's grizzly population. To complete this project, the Government of Alberta is partnering with local landowners, Parks Canada, the United States Geological Survey and the University of Alberta.
Read more about the Southwest Agricultural Monitoring Project:
By sharing what they know
Rancher-driven community groups have been active in sharing what they've learned about preventing conflicts with bears and other carnivores.
They've been able to provide advice to neighbours and, through tours and information sessions, show others across the province how they share the landscape with carnivores.