Cover Story

Don’t be part of the problem

Electric fences are amuch better way to deal with bears than shooting themor using ineffective scare tactics.

By Judie Steeves W

aking from a long winter of hibernation, perhaps with the addition of a cub or two during that time, a bear is feeling pretty hungry once he or she wanders out of that winter den in spring—and finding food is top of mind.

It’s only a coincidence that spring is also the time of year when growers put hives of bees (and honey) out in the orchard to attract pollinators to their blossoming trees. But it’s no coincidence that bear biology acts like a magnet, drawing the big mammal with the sharp sense of smell to previously-successful sites to forage for high-calorie, sweet honey.

Bears have very long memories for food sources, explains Ken Owens, a provincial conservation officer located in the North Okanagan and a senior predator instructor with the Western Canada Conservation Law Enforcement Academy. He teaches recruits about dealing with human/wildlife conflicts.

And, he says, bears have noses that are 2,000 times better than ours at sniffing out delicacies such as bee hives with honey in them, rotting fruit and garbage.

“They’re just naturally driven to do what they have to do to support themselves,” he says.


All it takes is one bad grower who has no ungulate fencing and who hasn’t picked his fruit — perhaps because it was hail-damaged or

whatever — to attract such dangerous wildlife, notes Owens, and the whole neighbourhood suddenly has a bear who will not forget that there’s easy pickings there.

Whether in a bee yard or working in a blossoming orchard, bee hives need to be protected by electric fencing, Owens states. It’s cheap and it’s safe and it can even make use of solar power to re-energize batteries. Electric fencing can also be light-weight and portable.

Owens points out that although growers have the right to farm, they also have a responsibility to follow Good Management Practices.

KEN OWENS Bears such as this one can wreak havoc with bee hives.

“Dangerous Wildlife Protection orders can be issued against anyone who is attracting bears, ensuring they come into compliance.”

The intent is to protect people and property, he says. There are also provisions under the Environmental Management Act. “Good husbandry practices must be followed by farmers. If fruit is left on the ground, or on the trees, that’s an attractant to bears,” he explains.

Such growers are contributing to the problem of bears becoming human-habituated, and dangerous, in communities near orchards or vineyards, he warns. They also become a danger to employees such as pickers, he adds. Some of them weigh as much as 600 pounds.

Last fall, Owens says, conservation officers captured and relocated a mature sow grizzly bear and her two 10-month-old cubs from east of Vernon in the Cherryville area because they had jeopardized public safety. But, it wasn’t their fault.

The bears had been attracted by the fruit left on unprotected crabapple trees near homes and had moved on to domestic garbage and then a chicken pen, where they killed several chickens in a coop that was not protected by electric fencing, he explains.

Relocating this family of bears is not a success in terms of conservation, warns Owens, but a serious failure on the part of humans to control and restrict bears’ access to attractants. We are all responsible for helping to prevent this from happening again.

Learn how to keep wildlife wild and communities safe. Visit< Today, lots of orchardists use electric fencing to keep bears

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2017 7

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