With low fruit yields on backcountry berry trees, bears have become frequent visitors in town and even earlier than usual. | J.Hohenstein photoScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 31, 2022 at 12:00

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The removal of two-dozen fruit trees in the Cabin Creek area has left some residents scratching their heads at the rationale.

Last week, the Municipality of Jasper announced that it had placed more than 20 non-native fruit trees on the proverbial chopping block.

Parks Canada had deemed them to be problematic, because they were located in municipal parks and greenspaces in the area and had been attracting bears, including two foraging mama bears, one with two cubs and the other with three cubs.

“I walk the creek every day, and these bears have been coming to these trees for generations and generations as I’m told by long-term residents of the area,” said Beth McLachlan, who has lived in that neighbourhood for more than a year.

“It’s not a shock that they are there…and the mom bears have already brought their cubs this year, so they will have learned this is where to go. I think they will just continue into other yards searching now, as Parks has said the supply of berries in the wild areas has been low this year.”

The berry crop in the back country has indeed been low and the apple harvest in town has also come earlier than usual as well. With school not yet back in session, children are still in the playgrounds while summer break lasts.

The combination of all that fruit on branches in town with kids and families enjoying their outdoor recreation created a situation where a human-wildlife confrontation became more likely.

The municipality issued a public statement on social media saying that the Cabin Creek greenspace between Cabin Creek and Patricia Street is home to many non-native fruit trees, which the bears have been actively feeding on. 

“This area sees a lot of pedestrian and recreation traffic, which has a high potential for close bear-human interaction, which is a risk to public safety,” the statement read. “Removing the trees is a necessary measure from wildlife conservation and public safety perspectives.”

Dale Karpluk has experienced black and brown bears in her yard only two years out of the last 46. This year, she counted them in her trees on five occasions and all within the span of a week.

“That’s an anomaly this year with the bears, I think. I don’t think I have ever seen a grizzly bear behind my house, and this summer, there were seven,” said the long-term resident. “That was a very strange year.”

She lives on the other side of Jasper but in a residence that backs onto Pyramid Mountain, the side where many of the bears come from.

Karpluk said that there was reason for concern and she couldn’t argue when it’s a matter of safety.

“I wouldn’t want any little kid to ever be hurt or anything,” she said, mentioning that people can contact the Jasper Fruit Share program to obtain help with fruit trees that need to be picked.

Since her apple tree has not been frequently visited by bears over nearly five decades, she doesn’t see how it could be as problematic as the Cabin Creek trees.

“I’m not about to run out and chop down my apple tree; however, I certainly will be a responsible community member and monitor the situation next year, and if it’s a big problem again, I’ll pick the apples earlier. They weren’t even ripe this year.”

For others still, the situation has developed into a confusing conundrum that demands clearer answers. 

“Is it only the non-native trees the bears are attracted to or all fruit trees?” asked Stepanka Krasova, who also lives out of the Cabin Creek area. 

That question quickly prompted her to ask others.

“If there are native fruit trees in (the) Cabin Creek area, are they going to be removed too or will they stay? It seems that removing only the non-native trees will not have the desired effect. Wouldn’t the bears just go for the native fruits? And if they do, isn’t it pointless to remove only the non-native trees? That seems like such a waste of taxpayers’ money. Would that mean then that Jasper residents should remove their food-producing gardens?”

McLachlan has other questions of her own too. She wondered about the prospective sources of food for those bears that have been visiting Cabin Creek.

“What are they supposed to eat? Low on berries in the wild; trees cut down in town. What are they going to feed on now? They won’t unlearn the area because the trees are gone,” she said.

“There are also wild raspberries and a number of other bush fruit/food options at the creek for wildlife, so I personally think taking out the apple and fruit trees won’t fix the problem.”

She’s also a member of the Jasper Local Food Society, which is currently trying to plan AppleFest, the local event to harvest apples from the yards of residents.

“We are conflicted because there are so many other things we can do as a community to harvest the apples and fruit and not have to get rid of the tree,” McLachlan said.

“Unfortunately, over the last few years, we have had a low number of residents who’ve contacted us for support in harvesting their apples as an alternative to eliminating the trees.”

“I think residents need to take more accountability for the fruit trees in their yards,” she added.

Parks Canada did not provide a response before the Fitzhugh’s deadline.

In the meantime, residents are asked to follow Parks Canada’s Guidelines for Planting in Jasper. The municipality said that its administration would also return to a future council meeting with options on how to manage non-native fruit trees on municipal lands.

This item reprinted with permission from the Fitzhugh, Jasper, Alberta