Forbidden fruit trees: Canadian national park urges locals to remove bear-attracting bushes

Forbidden fruit trees: Canadian national park urges locals to remove bear-attracting bushes

The waning days of summer and a bounty of ripe fruit have pitted hungry black bears against park rangers in a fight over a Canadian mountain town’s fruit trees.

Residents living in the Jasper national park townsite have been warned that fruit trees on their properties are luring in black bears and need to be removed as soon as possible.

“The continuous presence of bears in the Jasper townsite, often in residential yards just metres from people, is an unacceptable safety risk for visitors and residents,” Parks Canada said in a recent statement. “Bears living in constant proximity to people and residences have an increased likelihood of gaining access to human food or garbage, and of accidental aggressive physical encounters.”

Non-native apple and cherry trees, as well as fruit bushes, which have lured in bears searching for high-calorie foods ahead of winter, have become the focus of park staff.

After feasting repeatedly on fruit, a black bear and her two cubs were recently relocated far from the community. But at least 10 other bears have been spotted in the area and videos posted to social media highlight the difficulty of getting them to leave.

Parks Canada staff have “hazed” the bears, using paint balls, chalk balls and loud noises in an attempt to scare them away from the area.

But strategies that have worked in the past are no match for the sugary fruit.

“Bears in the townsite are extremely reluctant to leave, as fruit trees provide a high food reward for bears preparing to hibernate,” said Parks Canada. “When they are moved only a short distance from town, they tend to come back almost immediately.”

The issue of fruit trees isn’t new, but the emboldened bears highlight the mounting challenge for communities on the wildland-urban interface, as mammals are pushed closer to areas of human habitation.

At least 20 non-native fruit trees were recently removed from Jasper and Parks Canada is offering to help residents to remove more trees.

“Removing the trees is a necessary measure from wildlife conservation and public safety perspectives,” the municipality said in a statement amid frustration from residents. In the past, town councillors have been skeptical of the “wholesale removal” of fruit trees.

In neighbouring Banff, which has also struggled to reduce human-bear interactions, the municipality previously explored the idea of a bylaw banning fruit trees. But after a legal opinion concluded courts would be hesitant to remove existing plants, the community has set up programs to help residents to swap fruit-bearing trees for native flora.

The town of Jasper has a “fruit share” program, in which residents can get help picking fruit from their trees.

Parks Canada has warned that any bears that return to Jasper after being relocated may need to be “destroyed” for the safety of the community.

This article by Leyland Cecco was first published by The Guardian on 21 September 2022. Lead Image: Black bears are reluctant to leave and tend to come back almost immediately when moved. Photograph: Bruce Montagne/Dembinsky Photo Associates/Alamy.

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