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Potential increase for fruit tree removal, replacement on public Canmore land

“I believe our community has strong feelings towards wildlife and how we interact with wildlife and this is a meaningful step in that direction,”
Danny Finn, an arborist with Alpine Precision tree services, cuts down a mountain ash tree in Canmore at Rotary Friendship Park Wednesday (August 2). MATTHEW THOMPSON RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – A Town of Canmore program aimed at minimizing human-wildlife interactions could received an influx of cash, but another one will likely financially standstill for at least the foreseeable future.

Canmore’s finance committee recommended council approve $30,000 in 2024 to remove fruit trees on public lands and an annual $30,000 to the 2025-28 operating plan.

However, the committee ultimately decided against doubling the $10,000 annually pumped into the incentive program for fruit tree removal and replacement on private property as they wait on a potential sizable grant. The committee, however, is recommending council direct Town staff to return if the $10,000 is fully used to determine if more money is injected into the program in 2024.

“I believe our community has strong feelings towards wildlife and how we interact with wildlife and this is a meaningful step in that direction,” said Coun. Wade Graham, who brought forward the motion for removing fruit trees on public lands.

“We have seen wildlife in our community be relocated or destroyed because of this challenge. Over the years, we’ve been asking the public to take this seriously and remove the problem from their private property. Meanwhile, we’ve had a significant challenge on Town-owned land that we have not dealt with in an expedient manner, in my opinion.”

With roughly $320,000 being equal to one per cent of the operating budget, multiple council members noted it was worth the addition to address fruit-bearing trees on public property.

In a Nov. 14 presentation to finance committee, Town staff estimated it would cost $160,000 to $180,000 to remove high-yield fruit trees on public property. An estimated 400 crabapple, mountain ash and choke cherry trees were on public land.

The estimated cost to remove and replace all fruit trees and shrubs in Canmore is $1.65 million.

“We are trying to walk the walk and minimize how many animals are destroyed. That’s a tangible palatable cost for that,” said Coun. Jeff Mah.

The fruit tree removal incentive program allows private property owners to remove and replace such trees and vegetation up to $500. However, in 2023, the program was fully utilized – with 94 fruit trees removed on private property – though a 2018 survey found about 2,500 fruit trees were throughout the town.

On public property earlier this year, the Town removed fruit trees around Elevation Place and cut down several mountain ash trees this past summer at Rotary Friendship Park, Sixth Street and Canmore Seniors’ Centre.

“It’s really important we have a reputation and a wildlife liability on our public lands when it comes to fruit-bearing trees, so putting money to removing them lives up to our values, priorities and expectations of our own residents,” said Coun. Tanya Foubert.

But with the $10,000 being fully subscribed in 2023 for the incentive program, an attempt by Graham to double it was unsuccessful as the Town waits for the results of a grant request by the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley with the Calgary Foundation.

Council decided it was prudent to wait for the results – in what Mayor Sean Krausert said would be a “major gamechanger” if the grant was approved – but also approved a motion to recommend council have Town staff return if the incentive program is once again fully subscribed in 2024.

“I still think $10,000 is enough to help people who are maybe on the fence of whether they’re going to remove it themselves or they need that incentive to remove those trees,” said Coun. Jeff Hilstad. “Some people are never going to remove their fruit trees and that’s their right, as long as they pick them clean.”

Gareth Thomson, the executive director of the Biosphere, said if approved by council the $30,000 funding to remove and replace fruit-bearing trees and vegetation would be “an exemplary move.”

He said the Biosphere submitted its grant request – which was supported by more than a dozen letters from area municipalities, Banff-Kananaskis MLA Sarah Elmeligi and Banff National Park – and would make a sizeable dent in removing and replacing fruit trees and vegetation.

The grant is asking for $930,000 over two years to remove and replace fruit trees and vegetation on private property, but also to help with education and public engagement to “help people understand why this is good for wildlife and good for human safety to remove attractants in this manner.”

With more than 2,000 fruit trees and vegetation in Canmore, a grant would significantly speed up the removal and replacement process.

“At the current rate, it would take us several decades to remove those trees,” he said. “There’s a high likelihood of a bear-caused injury to a human during that time and a very high likelihood of annually bears being either killed outright or removed and then dying because only about half of bears that are removed to another location survive.”

In 2022, six black bears and a grizzly bear were relocated out of Canmore. A high-profile incident had a mama bear and her three cubs eat fruit from trees and get into an unsecured garbage bin from a downtown business. They were relocated about 300 kilometres to Caroline, but the mama bear and two of the cubs returned and were euthanized to avoid a public safety issue.

Following the high profile incidents, Canmore council increased fines to between $250 and $10,000 and made planting of new fruit-bearing trees illegal as part of the community standards bylaw.

In Canmore, allowing fruit or berries to grow on trees or bushes is illegal and can result in fines between $250 and $10,000.

In the fall, bear 122 – also known as The Boss – entered the Banff townsite near the Fenlands recreation centre to eat a mule deer carcass. He was also in a backyard in Marmot Crescent, feasting on apples that were on the ground.

After those incidents, the Town of Banff had 15 tree removals in a three-week period nearly meeting the 22 trees removed in the previous eight years combined. There still remain about 40 crabapple trees in the townsite, with the Town having a fruit tree replacement program established in 2015.

When a bear is relocated it’s about a 30 per cent success rate, which leads to it often being a death sentence.

When bears are used to getting food from a specific source, they’re more likely to return to the area and become bold in attempting to access the much-needed calories, particularly in the fall when they’re fattening up for winter.

“We believe that this would be a pivot point for the Bow Valley when it comes to the safety of bears and the safety of people. … I believe the people in the valley will decide it’s finally time and there’s never been a better time in terms of the culture of this valley for that to take place,” said Thomson.

The Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence roundtable is a mix of representatives from municipal, provincial, not-for-profit and private organizations that look to work together to minimize human-wildlife interactions.

Thomson highlighted in the past, valley residents have responded when it came to minimizing human-wildlife interaction.

He gave the example of bear-proof garbage, recycling and now compost bins throughout the valley. After bear-proof bins were introduced in the late 1990s, bear occurrences in Canmore went from about 60 a year to fewer than 10 almost every year since.

“I believe I live in a valley where people are not happy or not content with this hemorrhage of the bear population, but rather they’d like to show and demonstrate stewardship in the valley,” Thomson said. “We’re just trying to help this along and accelerate that.”

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