Manage garbage, not bears

In the fairy tale Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Goldilocks was fortunate to escape unharmed after invading the bruins’ home and eating some of their porridge.

In the fairy tale Goldilocks and The Three Bears, Goldilocks was fortunate to escape unharmed after invading the bruins’ home and eating some of their porridge.

Had the three bears been caught doing the same in the oilsands region of Alberta, they would have been shot dead. In fact, last year there were 145 black bears “euthanized” in the Fort McMurray district after being caught rooting through human garbage dumps and hanging around work camps in search of food.

That’s a new killing record the Alberta government should be ashamed of — a slaughter condemned by environmental and wildlife conservation groups. Last year’s killings far exceed the 58 bears shot in 2010, after being deemed problematic because they were hanging around human garbage dumps.

The Alberta Wilderness Association and the WildCanada Conservation Alliance blame the government for lax garbage management in these remote areas: “ . . . rather than enforcing regulations, or prosecuting the guilty companies, Alberta government staff simply moves in and kills bears. Lots of bears.”

Nigel Douglas, a wilderness association conservation specialist, said: “At a time when Alberta’s appalling international reputation for ‘dirty oil’ is in the spotlight, this is one more bloody nose for the beleaguered oilsands industry.

“What is frustrating is that it is so unnecessary. Securing garbage should be a basic requirement of running an oilsands camp. Why are the companies not bothering to do this? Why is the government doing nothing to require them to do so?”

Oilsand-related activities are hidden from public view in the dense boreal forests. Since most Albertans cannot see into those forests for the trees, they rely on the province to ensure that natural balance is maintained by strictly enforcing environmental regulations.

But should we be happy with provincial and federal enforcement?

“While it (killing 145 bears) is unfortunate, we do have a very healthy black bear population in our province,” said Darcy Whiteside, spokesman for Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. “We have an estimated 40,000 black bears, so this had no impact on the black bear population as a whole.”

So, how many can we shoot before it impacts the population?

Conrad Fennema, president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, says the bears were shot to protect humans from hungry bears.

A similar statement was made a few years ago by another fish and game association president to justify shooting grizzly bears.

“Can we stand in the way of progress?” Fennema asked. “No, but it is not as though they (black bears) are an endangered species.”

That’s an absurd notion.

All that has to happen is that human trash be properly disposed of.

“This reflects a really primitive attitude . . . ” said wilderness association conservation specialist Carolyn Campbell. “For us to still be blatantly mismanaging garbage, food and other attractants really reflects that we’re still in kind of a backwards attitude toward wildlife.”

Jim Pissot, executive director of the WildCanada Conservation Alliance, adds to the debate: “The international community is outraged over what they know about the negative impacts of the tarsands development. When they find out about the number of wolves, caribou, grizzly bears and black bears sacrificed to reckless resource development in this province, they will be even more outraged.”

It beggars belief that we can’t do something as simple as managing our everyday waste in a way that allows us to make economic progress without ensnaring natural species.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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