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Survey finds 2,500 fruit trees in Canmore

BOW VALLEY – More than 2,500 fruit trees have been counted in Canmore.
Crabapple Tree
A black bear eats crabapples from a tree in a residential area.

BOW VALLEY – More than 2,500 fruit trees have been counted in Canmore.

Alberta Environment and Parks did the inventory in October as part of a plan to deal with the ongoing challenge of bears coming into town to feast on fruit from trees, such as crabapples and mountain ash.

“I wasn’t surprised by the amount – it’s probably even more than that – but it points to the severity of the problem,” said Jay Honeyman, human-wildlife conflict specialist for Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP).

Ornamental trees laden with ripe fruit are becoming more and more attractive to bears in recent years as Bow Valley communities get better at eliminating access to garbage and food waste.

Bears that learn there is food in town will come back again-and-again, often in broad daylight, putting both bears and residents in harm’s way.

Honeyman said bears can become bold and aggressive, which has led to relocation, even death of bears in order to protect public safety.

“It appears a lot of wildlife, including bears and elk, are choosing developed areas instead of the wildlife corridors, probably for the food and security those areas provide,” said Honeyman. “If we want wildlife using the corridors, we can’t have food in town and fruit trees for bears are a big part of that.”

The Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence committee identified fruit trees as a wildlife attractant and as a problem issue.

Canmore’s draft operating budget identifies $340,000 for 2019 to deal with issues to come out of this plan.

The bulk of the money is earmarked for a proposed 2.4-metre high fence to be installed around Lawrence Grassi Middle School and Centennial Park to keep out elk, but there’s also money for a program to remove wildlife attractants.

The draft budget indicated a subsidized tree-removal program could be reintroduced to remove fruit trees from priority locations in town. A subsidized tree-removal program in 2017 saw 26 crabapple trees removed in Canmore.

Details of the funding haven’t been ironed out at this time, but the municipality may end up paying for only a portion of fruit tree removal, or replacement costs.

Town of Canmore officials said the municipality continues to encourage homeowners to remove fruit trees if possible, and if not, to pick the fruit so it’s not an attractant.

Lori Rissling Wynn, Canmore’s sustainability coordinator and development planner, said they don’t want to see these species continue to be planted in the valley.

“We will be working with AEP and Bylaw Services on an attractant management strategy to try and prioritize species and areas of town and other tactics to reduce the number of attractants,” she said.

Further up the Bow Valley in Banff, the issue of fruit trees is also front-and-centre.

The municipality’s draft environmental master plan calls for a ban on planting of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs and require removal or management of existing fruit-bearing trees and shrubs to reduce animal attractants.

Historically, the Town of Banff has taken a fairly permissive approach to the issue of fruit trees, although a voluntary fruit tree removal incentive program saw 28 trees removed in 2015-16 from 21 different properties.

Chad Townsend, the Town of Banff’s environmental services manager, said the Town if getting public feedback on the master plan, which will likely go to Banff council for further debate and direction in early January.

“We’ve had fruit tree education campaigns and incentive programs, and now council may decide that we’re at the next level,” he said.

There were no reports of bears getting into fruit trees in Banff this year, but a black bear was shipped out of Canmore’s Peaks of Grassi neighbourhood where it was feasting in fruit trees and got into garbage in August.

In September, a trap was set for a black bear in a Three Sisters neighbourhood near Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy after it brazenly ate fruit from trees in broad daylight. The bear managed to elude capture.

Honeyman said there was a lot of bear activity in town this fall, particularly on the south side of the valley.

“We had dozens and dozens of confirmed reports of bears in fruit trees in town at peoples’ residences,” he said.

“Setting up traps is a last resort, but we weren’t getting any buy-in to manage attractants.”

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 this year, Canmore bylaw officers issued four fines and four warnings related to wildlife attractants. One of the fines and two of the warnings were related to fruit trees.

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