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Pilot program in Elk Valley pulling fruit out of hungry bears’ reach

A program which removes and replaces fruit-bearing trees saw a successful first year in operation, with a wait list for 2022
A male grizzly bear in a fall apple tree in Elkford, BC. (Photo credit: Cindy Rideout)

A fruit tree removal program in the Elk Valley designed to help reduce bear attractants has had a successful first year in operation, and there’s now a wait list for the 2022 season.

“The project’s aim was to support the people in the valley who would find it helpful to no longer have to pick their tree during the busy fall season,” said local wildlife biologist, Clayton Lamb. Lamb was instrumental is securing funding for the project, which was focused squarely on mitigating the risks posed by fruit trees.

The project, which subsidises the removal and replacement of fruit trees with non-fruit trees was a collaboration between WildsafeBC, the Conservation Officer Service and Lamb, and saw seven properties up and down the Elk Valley cleared of fruit trees

The Elk Valley is replete with fruit trees, with over 600 properties in Fernie alone with apple, pear and plum trees growing on them.

Enter: The fruit tree removal and replacement program piloted this year (2021).

The program in the Elk Valley worked as a subsidised way to help remove fruit trees from participating properties, with the program reimbursing 50 percent of removal costs up to $400.

While funds were limited and allocated on a first-come first-serve basis, seven landowners in the valley took advantage of the program: four in Fernie, one in Hosmer and two in Sparwood.

Many of them chose to replace their trees with crimson red maple - so there’s still plenty of colour in their place.

Lamb explained that there were many factors that lead to unpicked fruit trees becoming a problem.

“Ornamental fruit trees, such as crabapple and mountain ash, are problematic as they are very attractive to bears and provide little benefit to humans except for their appearance,” he said.

”Crabapples and ash trees are commonly left unpicked and become attractive to bears. Some appetizing trees, such as traditional apple trees, go unpicked at times due to safety concerns from elderly owners who would need to use a ladder pick the fruit.”

According to local WildsafeBC coordinator, Kathy Murray, the issue of human-wildlife conflict, and the ongoing pilot program had motivated others that hadn’t secured a place in the program, to voluntarily chose to remove their own fruit trees.

“In many other instances, landowners who were reluctant to remove fruit trees agreed to prune and/or manage trees responsibly. Rather than issue warnings and fines, the Conservation Officer Service was able to refer landowners with problem trees to the local WildSafeBC Community Coordinator who had the ability to provide solutions and support to help resolve human-wildlife conflict,” said Murray.

Funding for the 2021 pilot program came through the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, a joint US-Canada initiative that seeks to protect habitat between Yellowstone and Yukon.

So far in 2021, the number of bears killed in human-wildlife conflicts has been relatively high in the Elk Valley, with bear reports “almost double” in Fernie compared to the previous year. In November, a local Conservation Officer said that 2021 had been the “worst year” for human-bear conflicts in her career. At that time, 14 bears had been killed in the District of Sparwood alone.

READ MORE: Mother grizzly, 3 cubs killed by train near Elko
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