Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association
The Government of Alberta created the BearSmart Program to provide communities with financial and directive support in becoming BearSmart. From this directive Fish and Wildlife Enforcement District Officer John Clarke has developed and created a strong group of volunteers that works within the Crowsnest Pass assisting residents in becoming bear aware and the bears, people aware.
This program consists of many volunteers, partners, and supporters from within and outside of the community. Over the last few years it has grown to become one of the leading programs in the province of Alberta and is being used as a format for programs in British Columbia as well.
The BearSmart name is a blanket name that anyone can use, but the difference between the groups is the program delivery; experience and training abilities of those running the program, and of course the relationships with those in charge of wildlife management and emergency services. Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association has been created to work in partnership with Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Branch and operates directly as Alberta Environment and Parks volunteers. Through these partnerships volunteers are trained hands on in the field alongside officers. They receive the best education there is on bear awareness and safety, and also bear behavior and instinct. The goal of the program is to reduce the number of bear mortalities, bear relocations, the number of bear/human conflicts and the number of officer man hours spent on bear complaints, making it possible to coexist with the wildlife in the valley. At least one year of training is required before volunteers are made responsible to teach courses or assist residents with bear related issues to ensure the public is getting the best possible assistance from those with evidence based education and experience.
Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association has successfully implemented one of the top bear awareness and bear spray training courses in the province. The course is provided free of charge to community residents, businesses, industrial staff and other volunteer organizations. This course is taught in partnership with Fish and Wildlife Officers and brings forward incredible experience and knowledge, giving participants a realistic feel of how bears behave and what to do in an encounter. Who better to learn from than those who work with the animals daily?
Other programs this group provides the community consist of attractant removal, such as apple picking and tree removal, door knocking to alert residents of a bears presence when considered an issue, providing resources and assistance to those with bear presence on their property and a garbage can loan program. Working with District
Officer Clarke and other officers to provide accurate information and assistance where it’s really needed, saves time, resources and focuses on actual occurrences reducing risk to the resident, neighbors and the bear.
As of last year the Association became a distributor of bear resistant garbage cans in the Pass, the result being a high number of residents willing to purchase and use the safer option for garbage disposal.
To make a program such as this successful, partnerships with other agencies, and local government are very important, over the last couple years working relationships with Community Protective Services and Enforcement, Hillcrest Fish and Game and RCMP have made delivery of the program much more successful. A member of the Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association sits on the Community Protective Services Advisory Committee and works closely with the local Municipal Enforcement and council to bring as much information as possible forward to keep local government up to date and informed on the wildlife activity and needs within the Pass, thus providing residents with a consistent response from all partners providing services in their safety. The partnership with Hillcrest Fish and Game has been very helpful in support and giving our volunteers the option to learn from those who spend their lives outdoors with activities that interact with wildlife on many levels.
A large part of the program is the monitoring of bears through the use of radio transmitters. Low level habituated bears are fitted with ear transmitters by Fish and Wildlife, and volunteers monitor their movements alerting Officers if the bear should breech the boundaries. Officers will respond and conduct aversion on the bear with the Karelian bear dogs, bangers, rubber bullets and chase it out of the area. This has proven successful and allows these bears to remain in safe areas respecting people and boundaries. As typically only sows are entered into the program, they in turn teach their young giving everyone a head start on safe coexistence. The association agrees with moral and legal bear hunting as an important management tool but does ask hunters to refrain from hunting the bears with two tags as they are program bears and many hours have been invested and they are good “residents.”
In 2015 volunteers invested 2784 hours into the program, and traveled 13730 km patrolling for bears and delivering the program to the community. Numerous trees were picked clean of apples, three removed all together, Crowsnest Waste Disposal made a big difference with bringing in bear proof dumpsters to problem areas noted by Officers and volunteers. Sixteen courses were given by volunteers and an exciting weekend of courses was put on with Terry Grant, the real Mantracker in August. Another successful Going Wild event was held in partnership with the Crowsnest Pass Gun Club and these activities will take place again this year.
The measure of success in this program is the fact that fewer bears were relocated than previous years and no bears were euthanized by Fish and Wildlife. In an area that sees the number of bears the Pass does, this is hugely successful!
Due to all around government funding being decreased the Association will be doing a fundraising event on April 16th at the Fish and Game Hall in Hillcrest, presenting a Bear Night with Joey Oliveri “Bighorn Photography” showing his incredible work photographing bears from all over, and District Officer John Clarke presenting the past, present and future of the BearSmart Program. Doors open at 5:00pm, for chili dinner, silent auction, and presentations starting at 7:00pm. Admission is $2.00 per person and dinner is $10.00 a plate. Also, a raffle for a bear resistant garbage can and a canvas print is being held, tickets are available through volunteers, Sears in Blairmore and Chefs on 213 in Bellevue.
The volunteers are gearing up for another successful bear season and are looking to residents to assist in keeping the wildlife wild by removing attractants and not drawing them into residential areas. Some things to keep in mind are bird feeders, BBQs, recycling, and of course, garbage, can draw a bear in from miles away. Please report all bear activity to Fish and Wildlife Blairmore Office 403-562-3289 during regular business hours, and the Report a Poacher Line 1-800-642-3800 after hours.
For information on how to bear smart, to book a course or assistance in attractant management, contact Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association by email firstname.lastname@example.org, checkout the website www.cnpbearsmart.com or by calling Christy Pool 403-563-8723.