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004 Bear Updates, Holiday Travel Tips, Jasper Berry Harvest, and Wildlife Crossing Structures

In this episode we’ll update you on the buffaloberry situation in the Rockies and suggest a few trails that should help you climb high above the berries and the bears. We’ll also offer some tips for holiday travelers to beat the crowds this busy long week

Story 1 – Buffaloberry and Bears Update

This has been another busy week for black and grizzly bears in the Rockies. With the bumper crop of buffaloberries this year, the number of close encounters has been growing steadily. This week. Kananaskis Country has issued a warning for the entirety of Kananaskis Country. In Canmore, mush of the area between the Peaks of Grassi and the town is closed to human use to give the bears room to feed. You’ll want to check trail reports ahead of leaving your home at this time of year to check if there are any warnings or closures that may affect your plans.

This is also a great time of year to think about leaving the valley bottoms and hiking into the high country. Trails like Ptarmigan Cirque and the Centennial Ridge Trails in Kanananaskis are great examples. Since buffaloberries grow at lower elevations, these higher trails leave the berries, and with them, most of the bears behind.

Story 2 – Tips to Beat the Crowds on Busy Holiday Weekends

We also look at some ways to beat the crowds this weekend. With record numbers of visitors this year, the secret is to head out earlier than everyone else – the earlier the better. I would recommend 7 am or earlier. This allows you to beat the crowds and have the kind of experience you truly want. With destinations like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake being routinely closed due to the crush of traffic, going early is the best way to make sure that you are in control of your experience.

Story 3 – Jasper Fruit Harvest

One of the community challenges related to buffaloberries is the challenge of fruit trees attracting bears into the community on years, like 2015, when the berry crop fails. Jasper is leading the charge in this respect with a program designed in partnership with Parks Canada that partners the owners of fruit trees with volunteer pickers who will harvest their crab apples or choke cherries and make the fruit available to people that may want to use it. This is definitely a program that Canmore and Banff could benefit from modeling.

If there’s one thing we learned from the buffaloberry collapse in 2015, it that as much as we as a community have done to try to reduce the attractants in our towns, we have been very poor at controlling the flowering fruit trees that dot our streets and back yards. Last year bears flooded into towns like Banff, Jasper and Canmore attracted by the multitude of crabapples, choke cherries and even the tasty nanking cherries – a great example of which grows in my front yard. Replacing the trees with not fruit bearing trees is a great way to reduce the attractions in towns but sometimes that’s not feasable. As an alternative, harvesting the fruit as soon as it ripens can also help to reduce their role in attracting bears into townsites in times of need.

On a normal year, the town is not that attractive. For instance, with the multitude of buffaloberries this year, there have been few incidents involving fruit trees – but we need to be thinking about the long game. Be sure to harvest your fruits if at all possible simply to remove one other potential chance for conflict between people and bears.

Jasper has really taken this to heart. As a community they are trying to match up owners of fruit trees with residents that would love to have access to the berries or apples. There are many senior that might love to makes some crabapple jelly but may not have a crabapple tree – or the ability to harvest the fruit. Jasper is working with parks canada to partner volunteer pickers with people that might not want their trees produce with people that would love to make use of it. In this way it helps to reduce attractants, while at the same time, avoiding these annual food crops being wasted.

In addition the town is offering workshops to show residents ways that they can utilize the fruits, again to motivate harvesting. It’s surprizing how many things you can do with backyard fruits and their interest and volunteer pool is growing. Come on Banff and Canmore, this sounds like something that should be heading south.

Story 4 – Wildlife Overpasses in Banff

In our final story, we play some live tape from a recent coach tour where I talk about the wildlife over and underpasses in Banff National Park. These are an amazing success story and they are gradually being copied in other jurisdictions as well.

When the program began in the 1990s, Parks began by building underpasses beneath the highway in conjunction with fencing to keep wildlife off of the roadways. At first it seemed like the large carnivores were reluctant to use the noisy bridge style crossings. As a result, when they designed phase 2, they added two large overpasses at a cost of 1.8 million dollars each. The good news is that they work. The even better news is that we’ve learned that good science takes time. We’ve now had more than 20 years to study the over and underpasses and we’ve learned that, in time, the large carnivores have adapted to the underpasses. They prefer the more open overpasses, but parks can build 3 or 4 underpasses for the cost of one overpass. To create a good balance, they put overpasses at critical crossing locations and underpasses at secondary crossings.

From the day that the first underpasses were built, park wardens and biologists have been keeping track of every individual crossing. They know how many times every species of animal has used each of the over and underpasses and, as a result, have compiled an amazing amount of detailed information on the movements of large carnivores and hoofed animals.

They are a great testament to Parks Canada’s long-term commitment to our wildlife populations.