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cover story Bear

Big increase in Burke Mountain bruins prompts blueberry grower to suggest it’s time for a cull.

By Judie Steeves I

n some berry fields, bears are causing thousands of dollars in damage a day during peak

blueberry season. Sid and Jo-Ann Kwantes’ Gaskin

Farms in Coquitlam is adjacent to Minnekhada Regional Park in the shadow of BurkeMountain, and it attracts 30 to 40 black bears for several months during blueberry season. The 170-acre Gaskin Farms was

started 28 to 30 years ago by Kwantes’ father-in-law. Kwantes has worked there for the past 18 years or so, and has operated it with his wife for the past few years. He says there used to be one or two

bears there during the summer, but since huge subdivisions have been built on the back side of the mountain, there has been a dramatic increase in numbers in recent years. “That moves the bears to the

nearest easy food source. “There’s been an exponential

increase in their numbers in the past six or seven years. The sows are having twins and triplets with such easy feed available,” he comments. “They’re breeding like rabbits. It’s

not normal.” JUDIE STEEVES

Sid Kwantes with just some of the damage done to plants by the dozens of black bears at his Coquitlam farm.

Neighbouring berry fields are also

popular with the big bruins, as well as neighbouring homes, where one homeowner has complained this year about a bear in the garage trying to get into his freezer. Beside Oliver Road at Gaskin

Farms a locker has been installed for garbage cans to be kept safely until pickup day. In blueberry fields the big bears not

only eat the fruit, but simply knock it off as they walk by, then break down whole branches trying to reach berries at the top of the bush. In fall, long, even rows of mature

berry bushes with red leaves contrast with the green corridors of mown grass between the rows—and the mountain rises into the clouds in the background. However, dotted amongst the full bushes are small, thin ones where

portions of the plant lie broken on the grass. “I don’t mind donating a bit of fruit

but they destroy the bushes and knock off all the fruit when they walk past,” he said. Kwantes believes there should be a

bear cull. He harvests most of his acreage

mechanically, but some is taken off by pickers, and it’s necessary for them to work in groups to make themselves more threatening to the wild animals. Kwantes has installed an electric

fence around the property but the bears just dig under it, he says, pointing out spots where deep holes have been dug below the lowest strand of barbed wire. Even blocks of cement, rocks and

other debris placed along the fence line are no deterrent.

British Columbia Berry Grower • Winter 2012-13 5 on the rise damage

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