Mountain towns renew calls to remove fruit-bearing trees as bears keep returning

bear eating fruit Photo by Ghost Bear/Shutterstock

Mountain towns in Alberta, such as Banff and Canmore, are renewing calls for property owners to remove fruit-bearing trees from their properties after a recent fatal bear encounter and spike in human interactions with bears.

This summer, Banff passed a bylaw allowing the town to order the removal of trees considered wildlife attractants from residents’ properties, in case Parks Canada isn’t given permission to step in. However, Canmore’s bylaw is slightly different. While it prevents residents from planting new berry bushes or fruit-bearing trees, the bylaw does not require people who already have the trees on their properties to remove them. Instead, they have to ensure they remove any fruits or berries that grow or face a fine that could range between $250 and $10,000.

Caitlin Van Gaal, the supervisor of environment and sustainability with the Town of Canmore, says the town does have an incentive program to help residents remove the trees. The town will pay 100 per cent of a property’s tree removal costs, up to $500. This is a 40 per cent increase from the year before. 

“Before, we were seeing around 19 to 25 trees being removed each year. We had a larger pot of money to allocate to residents due to lack of interest, and with the changes, this year we removed 94 trees,” Van Gaal says. “We fully exhausted funding for the first time at the end of August.”

The Town of Canmore is currently seeking public input about potential opportunities or barriers that could help or hinder efforts to coexist with wildlife. Residents have until October 31 to complete the survey. This is the first phase of the town’s Human-Wildlife Coexistence Implementation and Action Plan, which it hopes to finalize in the spring of 2024. As part of ongoing discussions about how to keep wildlife out of residential areas, the town is sending two ambassadors door-to-door in the Bow Valley area to educate residents on the need to remove the trees.

Why are more bears going into Banff and Canmore in the fall?

In preparation for hibernation, an increasing number of bears are returning to populated mountain towns, such as Canmore and Banff, Alta., because of fruit-bearing trees. 

“In the fall, bears are really hungry and crabapples are a great source of calories, but it’s not a natural food for them to be eating,” says Kim Titchener, the founder of Bear Safety & More. “The trees are only in the area because they’ve been planted, and they need to get removed.”

In September, there were several reports of an infamous grizzly bear known as “The Boss” feasting on a fruit-bearing tree in Banff. While Parks Canada cut down the tree to deter the bear from returning, it might not be enough. In a statement, the federal agency said it may need to resort to using tactics that will re-instill the bear’s fear of humans. 

“Aversive conditioning involves collaring and tracking the bear, and using hazing techniques, including loud noises and projectiles, such as chalk balls and rubber bullets, to scare it away from problematic areas,” says the Parks Canada statement. 

Not all bears are so lucky, though—a black bear who was found eating fruit from a tree in Canmore was euthanized. The difference in response is due in part to the individual behavioural patterns of the bears, says Titchener. 

Featured Video