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Bears to be relocated from townsite

Parks Canada is removing up to 10 black bears that have become habituated away from the Jasper townsite. | Parks Canada photo

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter | editor@fitzhugh.ca

Parks Canada is working to remove up to ten black bears that have become habituated to the Jasper townsite, including two sets of female bears with cubs.

The low berry crop in the backcountry has made even more irresistible the abundant fruit hanging on a variety of non-native fruit trees located in greenspaces and yards in the Jasper townsite.

Dave Argument, resource conservation manager with Parks Canada, said black bear encounters can have seriously negative outcomes for people.

While no negative human-wildlife interactions have yet occurred this year, there is too much of a risk to continue to allow the bears free access to the readily-available food source. 

“As a general rule, we work on the understanding that living in proximity to bears in the towns, from a safety perspective, this is not an acceptable situation,” Argument said.

Every bear in town has been met by members of the human-wildlife coexistence team who strive to haze them back out and deter them from re-entry. 

Those efforts have not been successful.

“When that doesn’t work, when they keep on coming back, when they’re persistent this way, then we have to escalate and move to the next stage in a bit of a continuum of action on these animals,” Argument said.

“At this point, that means, yes, we need to start working on removing these bears from the townsite.”

To aid in the relocation of the two sets of mama bear and cubs, Jasper National Park staff has borrowed a family trap from its Banff counterparts.

Relocation is not a guarantee of success, however. If the bears return to the townsite, Parks Canada is holding onto the option of destroying them.

“I think the relocation of bears is often unsuccessful and bears have a low chance of survival when they’re translocated to an unfamiliar environment where they have to compete for food with bears that already live there,” said Devon Earl, conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.

“That’s one reason why they often come back where they know there’s a source of reliable food like a fruit tree in town, for example. By the time that strategies like hazing or relocation are being attempted, the bear’s already in serious danger.”

It’s a Catch-22: the proximity of wildlife is one of the main draws to people visiting or living in Jasper in the first place, but the human presence is perhaps the major factor that is precipitating their decline.

“No jurisdiction has really found the silver bullet for this,” said Chris Smith, parks co-ordinator with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

“Outside of improving education and outreach in ways that are different than how we’re doing it now, because obviously the methods now have not been as successful as we would like, I don’t have a good answer for how the Park can improve on this.”

Parks Canada is working with the community and the Municipality of Jasper to find solutions to the attraction problem, which Argument described as “a potentially growing problem.”

“Really, the long-term preferred solution is to ensure that this is a bear safe community and that we’ve addressed that fruit tree problem long term so that there’s less reason for these bears to ever come here,” Argument said.

“We’d rather not ever have to trap and relocate a bear. If we can make some progress on removing the reasons for the bears to come into town, then we may not need to deal with this situation in the future. Right now, it needs to be addressed.”

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