The last days of summer and an abundance of ripe fruit pitted hungry black bears against park rangers in a battle for fruit trees in a Canadian mountain town.
Residents of the Jasper National Park townsite have been warned that fruit trees on their properties attract black bears and should be removed as soon as possible.
“The continued presence of bears in the Jasper townsite, often in residential yards within meters of people, is an unacceptable risk to the safety of visitors and residents,” Parks Canada said in a recent statement. “Bears living in constant proximity to people and residences have an increased likelihood of access to human food or garbage, and accidental aggressive physical encounters.”
The non-native apple and cherry trees and fruit shrubs, which attracted bears in search of high-calorie food before winter, became the focus of park staff.
After feasting on fruit several times, a black bear and her two cubs were recently moved away from the community. But at least 10 other bears have been spotted in the area and videos posted on social networks emphasize the difficulty of getting them to leave.
Parks Canada staff “frightened” the bears using paintballs, chalk balls and loud noises in an attempt to scare them away from the area.
But strategies that have worked in the past are no match for sweet fruit.
“Townsite bears are extremely reluctant to leave, as the fruit trees provide a high food reward for bears preparing to hibernate,” Parks Canada said. “When moved a short distance from town, they tend to return almost immediately.”
The fruit tree problem is not new, but the emboldened bears highlight the growing challenge for communities at the interface between nature and cities, as mammals are pushed closer to areas of human habitation.
At least 20 non-native fruit trees have recently been felled in Jasper and Parks Canada is offering to help residents cut down more trees.
“Removing the trees is a necessary measure from a wildlife conservation and public safety perspective,” the municipality said in a statement amid frustration from residents. In the old dayscity councilors were skeptical of the “bulk removal” of fruit trees.
In nearby Banff, which has also struggled to reduce human-bear interactions, the municipality had previously explored the idea of a bylaw banning fruit trees. But after a legal opinion found the courts would be reluctant to remove existing plants, the community set up programs to help residents trade fruit trees for native flora.
The Town of Jasper has a “Fruit Sharing” program, where residents can get help picking fruit from their trees.
Parks Canada has warned that any bears that return to Jasper after being moved may have to be “destroyed” for the safety of the community.