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Critter Control

Coping with unwelcome wildlife

Here are some measures growers can take to co-exist with bears, bats and snakes.

By Margaret Holm

Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance


e are lucky to live in a province with abundant natural beauty and biodiversity, but that

doesn’t mean that you want bats living in your sheds, snakes surprising your employees or bears munching on your crops.

Bears are a natural part of most ecosystems in British Columbia, but when they get a taste for high-calorie fruit, garbage, and pet food they become bolder, returning repeatedly to properties in broad daylight and impacting worker safety and productivity. Because they travel widely, it is critical that agricultural properties and communities work together to manage bear attractants. Once a bear is attracted to fruit on your property almost nothing keeps it out. In many regions of North America, the black bear population has adapted to human communities and is increasing in size. The provincial Ministry of Environment recommends using dogs to help keep bears away, as well as propane scare guns and air horns to make bears uneasy about visiting a property. Thinning brush near natural bear pathways helps, as does storing picked fruit securely behind closed doors and burying or removing spoils.

Installing electric fencing is the most effective method to keep out bears, and can be cost-effective when installed along existing fences. Electric fencing


must be four feet high with a quick pulse, and use metal not wooden posts. At least one wire should run close to the ground to discourage bears from digging underneath fences. Even electric fencing is only effective if it is installed early in the year before a bear is habituated to


Biologist Mike Sarell showing viticulture workers how to safely relocate a rattlesnake.

food sources. If an electric fence is working early in the season and the bruin gets zapped, it will remember and will avoid your property.

Orchards also attract bears when bee hives are brought in for pollination. Honey producers with bee yards need to put up electric fencing before bears can gain access to the irresistible taste of honey. Strapping the hives together and putting them on an elevated platform, and using metal posts to support the platform has been effective. With few alternative control methods, conservation officers are usually forced to kill over 500 “problem” bears each year in B.C. These bears cost taxpayers big money—more than $1 million is spent annually responding to bear complaints. Property damage and losses to agriculture are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But the Ministry of Environment Conservation Officer Service is only able to respond to wildlife calls that threaten public safety, so the service concentrates on populated residential areas. It is largely up to agricultural property owners to take responsibility for fencing wildlife out.

Consult the for methods to discourage problem bears, including instructions for constructing a simple predator electric fence. Electric fencing solutions are also shown at If a bear is threatening worker safety and is persistent or aggressive, call the

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2013

Conservation Officer Service RAPP line. B.C. has the highest bat diversity of any Canadian province, with 17 species. Bats play an important role in nature, consuming vast quantities of insects, some of which are costly agricultural pests either in their larvae or adult flying form. Many insects sense a bat’s echolocation signals and avoid areas where bats are feeding—so a healthy bat population is definitely a big plus for agricultural producers.

Bats use temporary daytime roosts in trees, rock crevices, and human-made structures. If you don’t want bats roosting in your farm buildings, winter is the time to seal up those cracks and crevices with metal flashing or wood. If you think you have a maternal colony where a number of females and young roost and their presence is causing a problem, you can seal up the opening after November when the bats have migrated out of the area.

Loss of habitat, lack of roosting sites, and environmental contaminants have affected bat populations, so bats could use some help. Luckily many orchard and vineyard owners realize the benefit of having bats around and have erected bat houses on their properties. Ken and Mellhina Thibault, of Casa del Mell Orchard in Osoyoos, put up bat boxes in 2009 as part of several wildlife- friendly initiatives on their property. “When we moved here in 2003, we knew this was a special place,” Ken says. “Mell and I reflected on the footprint we

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