Bear smart: researcher urges involvement of ranchers Net title:

CAM FORTEMS / Kamloops Daily News
February 3, 2011 01:00 AM

Officials in Kamloops, as well as other cities on the fringe of wild areas, encourage homeowners to keep garbage indoors in order to deter bears.

In the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, it's not quite so simple. And rather than just black bears, the population includes bigger and wilder grizzlies.

But the concept of keeping people and bears safe, by keeping them apart, is the same.

"The name of the game is minimizing attractants," said Seth Wilson, a visiting fellow with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

"It's not rocket science to minimize conflict with bears. But there are subtleties and complexities."

It's those complexities as well as success in reducing conflicts between black bears, grizzlies, wolves and ranchers that Wilson outlined Thursday in a lecture to students in Thompson Rivers University's master's of environmental science program.

In addition to his research responsibilities, Wilson is the wildlife co-ordinator for the Blackfoot Challenge, a landowner-led non-governmental organization in the Blackfoot River area in the Rocky Mountains in Montana.

Prior to the Blackfoot Challenge taking on the problem of conflicts between ranchers and predators, Wilson said there were 77 of those conflicts in 2003. Last year, by contrast, there were 10 minor incidents - a 93 per cent decrease.

The reduction in problem grizzlies came through a systematic reduction in things that attract them in known areas, including sick or dead calves.

Starting in about two weeks, the Blackfoot Challenge, using a combination of money raised from environmental organizations and government, will start operating what ranchers have nicknamed "the meat wagon."

The twice-weekly truck picks up livestock carcasses in the spring from ranches, typically stillborn calves or animals that have failed to thrive and subsequently died.

The group, similar in construct to Kamloops-based Grasslands Conservation Council, also installed solar powered electric fencing around beehives and calving areas.

"We focused on changing practices rather than changing people's values," Wilson said.

"Some in the environmental movement think 'if we can just educate people they'll do the right thing.' We've gone a different approach - let's make it easy."

But not for bears.

"They're smart and they'll remember," Wilson said. "Mothers will teach their young how to raid beehives or grain or carcasses."

In B.C. ranchers have reported livestock losses to bears and wolves. Interior ranchers said last year that wolves are being seen in unusually high numbers.

In addition to speaking to students here, Wilson is working with colleagues and ranchers in Southern Alberta's Rocky Mountain range on similar programs.

One of the latest tools is research around fencing at one time used in Eastern Europe to help trap and kill wolves. Wilson said a fladry line, a strip of visible material atop a fence with strips of material hanging from it, has been shown to keep out wolves if used for less than 60 days.

Wilson said part of his advice to students looking for ways to conserve natural resources and reduce conflicts with humans is to involve landowners, whether those values are for wildlife, forestry or fish.


© Kamloops Daily News

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