Kaslo council has adopted a strategy for dealing with bears who visit its fruit trees. Photo: Ross Davies/Special to Black Press

Kaslo council has adopted a strategy for dealing with bears who visit its fruit trees. Photo: Ross Davies/Special to Black Press

Kaslo bear assessment adopted, but sets no timeline

The report makes 10 recommendations for cutting down on bear visits to Kaslo

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

The Village of Kaslo has adopted a study on how to reduce bear attractants around town, but it’s not as clear if the Bear Hazard Assessment will have any teeth.

The assessment is required to help Kaslo become a recognized ‘Bear Smart’ community.

The document, developed by Gillian Sanders, aims to reduce the number of unmanaged fruit trees around town, thus reducing the potential of fatal bear-human interactions.

Sanders begins the assessment by setting the scene. Kaslo is great black bear territory, says the report, and its low elevation makes it a prime feeding zone for the animals, especially in the fall. There are not only native and introduced berries and edible plants, but many human-planted fruit trees.

Those trees “are unmanaged and produce small and/or scabby fruit that is unpalatable for people but regularly attract and feed bears, especially on Village lands in the Kaslo Bay area,” Sanders writes.

The report also points out Kaslo has a long history of human-bear encounters, that were never to the bears’ overall benefit. The most famous incident might be when a bear was shot at the Kaslo Jazz Festival in 2004.

“There were attempts to provide crowd control and keep people back and away from the bear, however when people would not leave the bear alone, the RCMP determined that the situation was unsafe and an officer shot the bear,” recalls Sanders.

“This high-profile incident served to motivate both Kaslo citizens and municipal government to invest into reducing human-bear conflict in the Village.”

Since then, the Village has introduced bear-proof garbage cans, hired a seasonal Bear Awareness co-ordinator, and created ground-breaking bylaws to regulate waste and discourage bear-human interactions, the report notes.

“The Village has committed to become a recognized Bear Smart Community and with the completion of this document has accomplished five of the six required steps, with only the Human-Bear Conflict Management Plan remaining,” says the report.

Fruit tree assessment

The purpose of the bear hazard assessment is to identify “unsecured food attractants” within the Village of Kaslo municipal limits – namely, fruit trees.

“The BHA identifies sources of existing and potential human-bear conflict and provides discussion of some solutions that will be expanded upon in the Human-Bear Conflict Management Plan,” says the report.

The assessment used reports to the Report All Polluters and Poachers line data, as well as calls to 911 and other sources, to map where bear encounters or sightings have occurred. It also catalogued bear attractants – trees and berry shrubs for example – on Village land, and where humans and bears are likely to interact, like along trails.

The study didn’t look at trees on private land, but does offer suggestions to promote them not becoming attractants as well.

Kaslo Bay is ground zero, bear-wise

The area around Kaslo Bay – with its small, scrubby, yet still-producing fruit trees – is the most problematic, the assessment states.

“The fruit from these trees and suckers is not harvested by people as it is small and scabby,” the report notes. “It is reasonable to think that there are multiple generations of bears feeding here each year, with local mother bears teaching their cubs about this easily accessible and plentiful food source.”

Native thimble, saskatoon and elderberry plants and hazelnuts, among others, are another source of food in the Kaslo Bay area popular for bears. However, the report says they should be left alone.

“The author is not recommending the removal of these shrubs at this time as these plants produce food for a variety of birds and small mammals, and likely do not serve as much of a draw to bears as the larger fruit found from domestic fruit trees,” Sanders writes.

It’s not the only trouble spot. The report highlights overgrown cherry and other fruit trees scattered around town.

Ten recommendations

The author provides 10 recommendations for council to consider. She says council should consider removing all the fruit trees on Village property on Kaslo Bay, while making sure the public understands the reason for the removal. All unmanaged fruit trees on Village property should be removed, though any healthy trees could be assigned to a local food security organization to harvest for local families.

Around 10 fruit trees should be removed from the golf course, the report suggests, unless the club would want to be responsible for managing the trees properly to reduce the bear attractant.

“If members of the golf course management or others wish to harvest and manage the fruit from these trees, that should be encouraged, and such activities should happen before bears access the fruit annually. If the fruit from these trees is better ripened on the tree, temporary electric fencing can be used to allow the fruit to properly ripen without bears accessing fruit here.”

Other recommendations included supporting food programs, incorporating Bear Smart programs into the Official Community Plan and Strategic Plan, and creating the Conflict Management Plan, the final step to become a ‘Bear Smart’ community.

“Kaslo has achieved significant steps towards improving human and bear safety in the Village,” the report concludes. “This [assessment] provides the Village with additional steps forward that will improve human and bear safety, reduce property damage associated with food conditioned bears, and achieves an important step towards becoming a certified Bear Smart Community.”

“We have to pay for something?”

The report was received by council, but not without criticism from Councillor Henry Van Mill.

“Does this involve we have to pay something if we adopt this?” he asked.

Staff noted that by adopting the assessment, council does commit through its planning processes to achieve certain goals of reducing attractants – but there’s no saying when or how that would happen.

“By adopting the report, we are not committing to a timeline on the rest of it,” noted corporate officer Catherine Allaway. “There are activities we are committing to, but it could be today, tomorrow, or 20 years from now.”

That still didn’t satisfy Van Mill.

“With today’s economy, I think it is very unwise, with the cost of things rising like no tomorrow,” he said. “I will not personally be supporting this.”

Despite his concerns, council voted for the adoption of the assessment.

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