Alberta needs a “mobile bear unit” for the Eastern Slopes to prevent a growing number of bears from being killed after getting too habituated to humans, says a wildlife expert.
Ryan Phinney, who spent the last 15 years in bear management, has seen a rising number of human/wildlife conflicts — particularly on the Eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.
Phinney believes there are better alternatives to euthanizing bears that get too comfortable around people.
Last week, Fish and Wildlife officers trapped and killed a three-to-four-year-old grizzly near Nordegg after getting multiple reports of it getting into people’s storage units, a bird feeder and shed in the Cline River area, off Hwy 11.
“After determining that the bear was conditioned to seek human garbage… officers and wildlife specialists had to make the difficult choice to put the bear down to prevent future public safety problems,” stated a release from Ina Lucila, communications advisor for Alberta Justice and the Solicitor General.
She added this was done in accordance with the Government of Alberta’s Grizzly Bear Response Guide.
Phinney knows some bears can’t be rehabilitated and must be killed — such as older ones that repeatedly sniff around people’s yards because they can’t compete for food with younger bears in the wild.
But in most cases, Phinney believes it’s possible to change undesirable bear behaviour. “It may only take a few days, no longer than a couple weeks. Instead of having to destroy a bear, you teach it what’s acceptable.”
He described many aversion techniques— from using a horn or banger shells to scare the bear, to more painful stimuli — such as firing chalk balls from a paintball gun, or rubber slugs or bean bags from a 12-gauge shotgun.
“The whole concept is to create a situation that the bear doesn’t want to be a part of,” said Phinney, who was a bear aversion technician for the Wind River Bear Institute in Montana, and a volunteer with the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Alberta.
”Done properly, it will imprint on that bear and it will stay away the next time,” added the Manitoba native, who suggested “a travelling bear unit” be started up for the East Slopes where the risk of human/wildlife conflict is high.
But, according to Alberta Parks, a bear aversion program in the Bow Valley was operated for about 15 years, starting in 2000, with little or no long-term success.
“Aversion programs work best in protected areas and at industrial sites where the land manager can control areas with closures and directives, and are better able to manage bear attractants. On private lands, these programs do not work,” stated Alberta Parks in an email.
“Our data from the Bow Valley indicates that nearly every bear targeted for aversive conditioning ended up being moved or euthanized.”
However, Alberta Parks’s bear aversion program in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park “works quite well because we are able to effectively manage the land base in the protected area.”
Wildlife experts believe bear problems start whenever food or garbage is left behind when people are hiking, camping or using all-terrain vehicles on Crown land.
Albertans living near bear habitat should also take necessary precautions to manage “attractants,” such as food, garbage and scented items such as cleaning and petroleum products, said Lucila.
Bird feeders should be removed from yards between April and the end of November. She also urges using bear-proof bins and even electric fencing around these properties.
For more information on living with wildlife, visit alberta.ca/living-with-wildlife.aspx.