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Town of Banff looking to strengthen rules on wildlife attractants

The Town of Banff is looking to beef up enforcement measures around fruit trees that draw wildlife into town and is contemplating a ban on planting any new trees and shrubs that bears love to eat.
A black bear eats crabapples from a tree in a residential area.
A black bear eats crabapples from a tree in a residential area. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – The Town of Banff is looking to beef up enforcement measures around fruit trees that draw wildlife into town and is contemplating a ban on planting any new trees and shrubs that bears love to eat.

The current community standards bylaw gives the municipality authority to make homeowners remove fruit from trees or from the ground as a way to discourage animals from coming into the national park townsite.

But officials say the proposed change would give the municipal enforcement department power to order a property owner to get rid of trees when there is clear evidence wildlife have feasted on fruit and could become habituated and pose a danger to the public – or the animal.

“There has to be interference with or danger to the public or wildlife. If a bird lands on a buffalo-berry bush and eats a berry those conditions don’t exist,” said Michael Hay, the manager of environmental services for the Town of Banff.

“It’s been described as the ‘one strike you’re out’ clause …  although that is accurate in spirit, I think the community is aware of this wildlife attractant issue because we’ve been communicating it proactively for the last three years.”

Since 2019, Banff’s municipal enforcement department has recorded 102 incidents in which wildlife got into garbage, food waste, recyclables, and fruit trees, including two files of deer eating pumpkins during Halloween.

In 2014, a black bear was destroyed after it repeatedly feasted on calorie-rich crab apples. Famed female grizzly bear 148, who was shot dead by a hunter in BC after being relocated out of Canmore, spent most of her time in Banff National Park and was known to feast on apple trees in the Banff townsite.

Last fall, Parks Canada was forced to kill two habituated bears – a mother and her cub – after they fed on multiple crab apple trees throughout town, including the industrial compound, the downtown core and in Middle Springs.

Hay said the tree in the industrial compound was removed voluntarily by the property owner, but the others remain.

“Last year, notably in the Bow Valley, there were actually five black bears euthanized by officials in Canmore and Banff after becoming habituated to fruit trees, so this is an issue that persists,” he said, noting there were three in Canmore and two in Banff.

Hay said many wildlife incidents are not officially reported by the municipal enforcement department because Parks Canada is responsible for wildlife management in the Banff townsite.

He said conversations between Town staff, residents, and Parks Canada resource conservation officers indicate that bears and coyotes gain access to crab apples and other fruit trees and shrub rewards more frequently than enforcement records indicate.

“I also want to emphasize this isn’t just a bear issue. There are numerous reports of coyotes grazing on crab apples as well,” he said.

Between 2015 and 2017, the Town of Banff and Parks Canada jointly organized a fruit tree removal program that led to the removal of at least 28 crab apple trees on 21 private properties.

Hay said this was a major step forward in managing the fruit trees in the Banff community, but there were many properties with fruit trees that did not participate, or expressly declined to remove their fruit trees.

Although the municipality continues to offer 100 per cent reimbursement of costs associated with fruit tree removal and replacement, Hay said he is not aware of any fruit trees that have been proactively removed in the past five years.

“As of May 2023, there are still at least 25 properties in the community with crab apple trees – in almost all cases known to be fruit-bearing,” he said.

The governance and finance committee unanimously directed administration to bring amendments to the community standards bylaw with the recommended changes to council for consideration.

Mayor Corrie DiManno said she hopes more people will take advantage of the tree replacement program, noting a joint Parks Canada-Town of Banff door-knocking campaign will raise awareness in August.

“It’s also clear that based on the at least 25 remaining properties that continue to have fruit-bearing trees we need to strengthen the tools in our toolbox,” she said.

The mayor said she has heard many reasons on why residents are reluctant or refuse to remove their fruit trees, but this is about doing right by wildlife.

“I really empathize with not wanting to remove a tree. We all love the trees in town, especially if they are on your private property,” DiManno said.

“While it’s hard to say goodbye to a tree in your yard, it’s certainly more tragic to have to say goodbye to a habituated bear.”

The proposed changes would also grant clear authority to the municipality to issue an order to block off a deck or access to a garage in the event that wildlife are hiding there.

There have been cases of cougars hiding under decks in Banff and last year a coyote pair denned under a backyard shed, producing seven pups.

“It’s sort of in the bylaw obscurely, but this just brings it out and makes it a little more clear,” said Hay.

In addition, council will also look at a possible amendment to Banff’s design guidelines that could prohibit the planting of trees and shrubs that are a significant wildlife attractant risk.

“They include four cherry tree varieties and three mountain ash varieties, so there’s potentially something we can do there,” he said.

“Although we are very focused on crab apple trees normally, it’s not just crab apple trees, it’s other fruit trees and bushes as well.”

In what is becoming increasingly the case, a spokesperson for Parks Canada was not available by the Outlook’s deadline.

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