Making bears and fruit trees get along

I’ve recently been involved in a discussion with the BC Food Systems Network about the relationship between bears and food security. In terms of food security, this issue is an extremely important one for anyone living where large predators exist. I plan to write about it over several posts in order to dispel some common misconceptions about the human-predator relationship in terms of food security, and to propose some practical solutions.

Please feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section. I welcome the input, as it gives us all a chance to talk about this important issue. Your comments also provide me with food for thought, and the chance to develop my ideas.

How to make bears and fruit trees get along

A member of the BC Food Systems Network recently wrote about their community’s experience with the Conservation Service. According to this source, the COs in their area, instead of dealing effectively with any nuisance bears, are threatening people with fines if they don’t cut down their fruit and nut trees. While outraged with this Ministry’s attitude, I’m not surprised by it. Here in the Bella Coola Valley, too, people are being advised to cut down their fruit trees by the Conservation Service, instead of being offered support, protection (part of their motto!), and–oh, yes–conservation.

False belief #1: The ‘remove the attractant’ theory

In terms of food security, the idea that we must ‘remove all attractants’ to prevent bears from entering our communities is a dangerous line of thinking (particularly in light of our economic times). The logic may sound reasonable when you are living in the city and dealing with a bear in your garbage can. However, it is not consistent with the goals of food security, because in rural BC there is no limit to the list of attractants. Therefore, we cannot have food security in our communities and be consistent with these Ministry guidelines.

Most specifically, and to put it simply:  if we ascribe to the notion that humans can control bear behaviour by ‘removing the attractants’, then we cannot raise food. Fruit trees, berry bushes, carrots, and parsley all attract grizzly bears. Chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, and rabbits, all attract grizzly bears. The duck feed, the goat feed, and the chickens’ corn all attract grizzly bears. Fields of corn and oats attract bears. Beehives attract bears. (Many of the above also attract a host of other predators that threaten our food security, such as eagles, foxes, wolves, cougars, mice, owls, hawks, martin, weevils, and so on.)

If we are to be consistent with the ‘remove the attractant’ theory, then the next ‘logical’ step is to pass public policy laws that forbid people from raising their own food. In order to ‘remove all the attractants’ we will have to cut down all the fruit trees, plant no vegetable or herb gardens, and get rid of all the feed and grain for our agricultural animals–chickens (see Needless Suffering), ducks, geese, goats, pigs, turkeys, sheep, and so on–lest we be seen to be ‘baiting’ the bears. Instead, maybe we could free range our agricultural animals? No.  To be consistent with the ‘non-attractant theory’ we must leave it to the corporate agricultural producers who can afford (both ethically and financially) to keep animals indoors, behind Fort Knox type fenced areas, or on feedlots.

New Jersey Example

The idea of removing the attractants simply doesn’t work. This line of thinking got the state of New Jersey into its conundrum with their bears. They have gone a long way down this path, having made city wide efforts of removing the ‘attractants’ from their city streets and neighbourhoods. They have made huge efforts to limit the times in which garbage could be out on the street for collection, and even made centralized collection stations. Nevertheless, despite the fact they have removed all the so called ‘attractants’, bears have NOT stopped coming into people’s yards. Now accustomed to viewing human settlements as good food sources, bears are now entering houses. We should learn from their experience instead of continuing down the same path.

If we are going to have, and support, real food security in our province, we have to change the way we look at this problem. If not, then we will eventually lose the right to keep fruit trees, grow gardens, and raise animals for food. The evidence of this is revealed in the current attitude of British Columbia’s Conservation Service Officers.

Living under siege

The idea that humans are responsible to not ‘attract’ the bears is ridiculous. Humans have always grown gardens, had fruit trees, and domesticated animals in places where large predators roamed. Since humans have been on earth they have been in direct competition with other large predators for their food (livelihood) and, by shooting, trapping, snaring, or other aggressive measures, have trained these wild animals not to intrude into their human settlements. Until very recently, we have known and understood our relationship with the natural world; part of our role was teaching wildlife what is appropriate behaviour. We have lost that understanding now that most of us buy food from the grocery store, agricultural production is out of sight and out of mind, and the closest we get to a grizzly bear is by watching the Discovery Channel,

It is time to re-educate ourselves to re-educate the bears. Even the Conservation Officer Service acknowledges that humans  can ‘teach bears bad habits’, so why not teach them some good ones?

To view the series of posts on this topic, see:

Part two

Part three

Part four

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13 Comments

Filed under Agriforestry, Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Fruit Trees, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming, Vegetable gardening

13 responses to “Making bears and fruit trees get along

  1. I know nothing about this issue but have to agree with your logic. Removing the attractants would suggest that anywhere there are bears, humans should pack up their homes and move elsewhere. Seems to me it would make sense to plant MORE food bearing trees, to make sure them bears aren’t desperate for food…

  2. Chris

    If you are comfortable with firearms, get a rifle and a shotgun, 12 gauge slugs are a serious deterrent.
    The bears don’t have to play by any bs politically
    correct rules…..when you are the victim of
    predators, you must by necessity beat them at
    their game.
    Shoot first, then dig a hole, keep the government out of your life every chance you get.

    • Hey Chris,

      Lots of folks do practice the three s’s (shoot, shovel, and shut-up) because the problem has gotten so out of hand here. The summer and winter of 2008-9 was particularly bad for bears. People were having multiple grizzly bears in their yards (like 4, 5, and 7 grizzly bears at a time!) and even the 12 guage wasn’t enough to take down a grizzly at close range. This really freaked out the fellow who shot the bear who watched in horror as it flinched, looked up, then kept on eating as it walked off! Another neighbour shot that bear this summer and found the slug in the bear’s side. They are not easy to kill apparently! I live in hope I won’t have to try.

      cheers,

      HDR

  3. sabrina

    “by shooting, trapping, snaring, or other aggressive measures, have trained these wild animals not to intrude into their human settlements.”

    So, dead bears learn lessons? Wow!

    As long as we keep taking over large swaths of land, giving the bears almost no other choice but to feed on whatever is nearby and convenient (we do that too) we have the right to just shoot them as we please? That’s the lazy mans answer.

    I’m not anti hunting, so don’t try that other lazy way of blowing off my reasoning. There are measures you can take and naturally nothing is fool proof, just the way it is. You have to have some responsibility if you want to live in bear country.

    Admit it. It’s cost effective to just shoot a bear than to try to figure out ways to deter them from competing with you, your words not mine. they aren’t competing with you, they’re bears, they’re looking for food to eat to survive. There are no bubble dialogues going on inside their heads when happening upon your land. “This is a humans land, I think I’ll go steal me some berries, oh and a lamb, screw those pesky humans, I’ll get THEIR stuff!” Not happening. Bears-meandering-food-survival-eat. That’s it. Nothing hostile going on.

    “The idea that humans are responsible to not ‘attract’ the bears is ridiculous.”

    You keep telling yourself that. Throw your trash everywhere, leave your dog food out on the porch, be a slob, do what you want. It’s easier and who the hell cares. I can do what I want with my property. You’re the man!

    Just curious, besides the minor research you did on Jersey, do you know what it looked like BEFORE they started being “responsible for not being slobs”?

    • Sabrina,

      I plan to deal with some of the points you raise here over the course of my next few posts as they are major contemporary misconceptions about the human-wildlife conflict.

      Oh, an ps, I’m a woman.

      Cheers,

      HDR

  4. I live within city limits but in a semi-rural area full of veggie gardens, fruit trees, chickens, cows, sheep, goats and on and on and bears are here every summer. I’ve heard people complain about conservation officers asking them to cut their fruit trees down when they report bears on their property…I don’t think that’s a real solution but I also don’t think everyone with a bear in their backyard should be allowed to shoot them either.
    If you grow your own food be it vegetable and/or livestock, you should do all you can to stop bears from coming into your property. Now for me, I have just a small veggie plot, about 10 fruit trees and six chickens so it’s easy for me to secure the chicken feed, pick my fruit, nuts, and berries when ripe but I don’t know how I would manage if I had a farm. I think everyone has the right to be self sufficient and as much as I love nature..humans come first. And in my view until we stop pro-creating, encroaching on nature will continue so we best come up with a good solution to co-exist

  5. alison

    Interesting. I live in British Columbia, although in a suburban area, so bears aren’t an issue in my garden. I looked at the Ministry of Environment Bear Aware page you linked to, and it seems that they’re advocating for electric fences and other deterrents. Apparently it is not official policy to require British Columbians to cut down our fruit trees.
    I agree that possibly losing the right to keep fruit trees, grow gardens, and raise animals for food is not acceptable.
    However, I also agree that shooting bears is not the answer. We as descendants of European colonizers need to rethink the way we look at the land and the animals. We have for too long felt entitled to having dominion over everyone and everything else on this planet, and this false sense of entitlement creates massive destruction and degradation.
    Would it not be possible to do some things that the Ministry site suggests? Again, I live in suburbia, near Vancouver, but there were a few good-sounding options, such as:
    planning/providing movement corridors to allow bears to escape towns
    electric fencing (metal posts, 4′ high, quick pulse)
    cleared areas away from forest cover, travel routes
    bear dogs
    motion lights and scare guns
    bringing feed/feed containers in behind locked doors

    It does sound like it may be necessary to change the way people do things, but it doesn’t really sound too onerous, at least for someone who has never had to consider the practicalities of any of these options. I just think that it’s the humans who need to be responsible for coming up with a workable solution.

    • Hey Alison,

      Thanks for your thoughtful response. They are all good ‘sounding’ options but the realities up here are so very different. Dogs are for the most part, no longer a deterrent for bears here. For one thing, because of the numbers of cougars it is unsafe to leave your dogs out at night (we call dogs ‘cougar bait’ here because so many of them get taken by cats).

      A 4 foot fence of course will not stop a cougar and is not likely to stop a determined grizzly bear either. And if the bears have already had access to your food, then an electric fence is useless. They must be put up before the bear has found the food source.

      Motion lights, sensors, and scare guns are equally useless. Neighbours have had grizzly bears in their yards by the handfull at a time. When there are 5 or 7 full grown bears in your yard, a scary noise is not going to do the job. Neighbours who experienced this had two men with high powered rifles trying to scare the multiple grizzly bears off with no success!

      Lots of the suggestions (official and non) are out of date and/or were created back in the day when these animals were still scared of humans, which is no longer the case. The idea of corridors is a good one, but then we humans have to respect those and not develop the areas. This is something we will have to work on as a society (and sadly, I don’t like our chances given our penchant for so called development).

      I’ll be working on a few more posts that address some more misconceptions and eventually get to some reasonable solutions. So, stay in the conversation!

      cheers,

      HDR

  6. Hi there! I spent the better part of last evening reading all of your blog entries to date. I must say I enjoyed all of it and shared your site with some friends that are also interested in what we do. I have been gardening strong for the last 10 years but until this year have not ventured into raising my own meat (except beef). We jumped in with both feet and haven’t looked back. I especially loved your new barn and can’t wait until we get to the point of doing the same.

    Keep up the great posts and I will continue to stop by.
    Thanks,
    Heather

  7. Pingback: Bears and fruit trees, part two « Howling Duck Ranch

  8. Pingback: Bears and fruit trees, part three « Howling Duck Ranch

  9. Pingback: Bears and fruit trees – part 5 « Howling Duck Ranch

  10. Pingback: Needless Suffering Comes Home to Roost « Howling Duck Ranch

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