Of all the years that lifelong Jasper resident Marv Garford has lived on Connaught Drive, this was the first bear that he has had enjoying the fruits of his May tree. That was on the morning of Aug. 17. That afternoon, a mama bear and two cubs were also up the same tree.| S.Hayes photoScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 23, 2022 at 16:15

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Parks Canada is reminding the public to pick their fruit trees clean as a way to remove attractants from a wave of bear incursions into the townsite recently.

Last week, the agency posted a warning about bears frequenting the townsite. That notice came only a few weeks after its berry season advisory and reminder to stay safe in bear country.

“They can move quite a bit,” said James McCormick, human wildlife conflict supervisor for Jasper. “Often, food is what drives where they choose to go, also what they’ve known where they grew up.”

Bears have since been frequenting the streets looking for apple and berry trees to fill up their bellies and their stores as they prepare for the cold months ahead.

Based on observations from Parks Canada staff who have hiked around the valley bottom, there seems to be a lower-than-average buffaloberry crop, which is the main food source for black bears and grizzly bears. 

“I would say they come into town maybe a week earlier than normal looking for fruit trees,” McCormick added.

“My suspicion of why bears are in town is that low berry crop, and then they’re either habituated bears that have learned – that have fed on fruit trees before – or just they’re more investigative because of that lack of food berry crop elsewhere.”

Marv Garford had a bear in his May tree on the same morning that the bear warning was issued. That afternoon, he had a mama bear and her two cubs in the same tree.

“I’m surprised they’d even eat those berries,” he said. “It was kind of a surprise, but I guess they’re hungry enough.”

This was the first occurrence out of the decades that he has lived at that house on Connaught Drive.

As part of its warning bulletin, Parks Canada suggested several ways to minimize the potential of a bear encounter, with removing bear attractants (such as fruit on trees and bird feeders from your yards) being only one method. 

The advisory also listed watching out for bears as a way to avoid them, making noise to alert bears of your presence and to supervise children playing outdoors. Keeping pet food, garbage and recycling secure was also on the list.

“Before we had those green bins in town, we had just garbage cans,” Garford said.

“As a kid growing up, we ran into bears consistently. I would come out of my friend’s place and run into a bear, pretty much five feet away. There he is, and the garbage can is knocked over.”

The warning asked people to keep all domestic animals under physical control at all times.

“People are always concerned about bears,” Garford added. “You gotta be bear smart in bear country,” 

Homeowners who agree that non-native fruit-bearing trees do not belong in the sensitive eco site can also call or text Park Canada at 780-852-8523 to access a program where it will remove your tree at no cost.

Around town and around the park, there are many berry bushes that black bears and grizzly bears are feeding on right now. It is easy to surprise a bear that is focused on feeding, read Parks Canada’s notice about berry season.

To reduce your risk while out enjoying nature, the advisory suggested that people:

● make noise while on trails

● travel in tight groups

● travel slowly 

● stay aware of their surroundings 

● carry bear spray and know how to use it

● watch for fresh bear signs and be especially careful near berry patches.

“If you see a bear, stay calm, back away slowly and leave the area. Never run,” the notice read.

McCormick added that people need to be extra vigilant now, because there is a greater risk of surprising a bear even just outside of your fence.

“They’re showing up in very surprising places. So far, their behavior has been okay; they haven’t done anything aggressive.”

Report all bear sightings to Jasper Dispatch at 780-852-6155 or via email to jasperdispatch@pc.gc.ca.

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