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Does Education Work?

How much effort must a community put into eliminating access to attractants before there is a benefit for the community?

The benefits per unit of effort of bear-proofing a community have not been studied. The level of effort required is likely to vary among communities depending on bear abundance, natural habitat quality, inter-annual and seasonal variability in natural food abundance and quality, inter- and intra-specific competition and the quantity, quality and accessibility of foods associated with people (bear attractants) in the community.

However, the physiology and behaviour of bears (e.g., long period of denning and relatively inefficient digestion of plant material) are strong incentives for bears to forage in areas where they can maximize their energy intake. Studies have shown that bears spend a majority of time feeding and that they select food based on the abundance, quality and ease of handling of foods available. Therefore, when bears are foraging for food associated with people, they will cue in on sources of such foods that are also of high quality, accessible and digestible. Any reduction in the amount of attractants associated with people that are available to bears should produce some benefit to the community. The bears will have less opportunity and benefit less from feeding on such food. This lack of benefit and opportunity to feed on attractants associated with people will result in fewer bears coming into close proximity to people. In addition, these bears will be in close proximity for less time. However, bears that are highly human food-conditioned have been known to go to great lengths to obtain foods from humans.

Some bears that are already human food-conditioned may become more persistent in their efforts to access other sources of bear attractants when certain areas or sources of bear attractants are “bear-proofed”. Therefore, the more a community does to ensure that attractants are contained in a bear-resistant manner, the better. An assessment of the availability and historic use of such attractants by bears in the community will assist managers in developing strategies and priority sites and areas for bear-proofing. A side benefit to bear-proofing is that a clean community is more attractive for both residents and tourists.

What evidence is there that education and bear-resistant waste management will work?

National and provincial parks have been leading the way in bear awareness education and restricting access to bear attractants through bear-resistant waste management and other measures. Bear Management Plans have been produced for many parks. These plans contain provisions for bear awareness education and bear-resistant waste management. In the early to mid 1970’s, US National Parks produced Bear Management Plans for several parks including Yellowstone, Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. By the mid 1980’s Canada followed their lead by producing Bear Management Plans for several National Parks including Banff, Jasper and Kluane National Park. Subsequently, by the late 1980’s BC Parks began producing Bear Management Plans for their parks starting with the West Kootenay District and South Tweedsmuir Provincial Parks. In Jasper National Park Ralf (1995) states that:“It wasn’t until the early 1980’s before park managers started to implement an effective program to eliminate bear access to human food and garbage. The number of bear destructions and relocations which occurred in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and early 1980’s were drastically reduced and virtually eliminated in the 1990’s as different stages of the program were implemented.”

By the mid to late 1990’s a few proactive communities in British Columbia began developing innovative strategies to reduce human-bear conflict in communities. Many of these strategies are based on the success of bear management strategies used by US Parks and Parks Canada. Whistler and Revelstoke, two proactive towns in BC, have experienced a substantial drop in the number of complaints and bears killed after implementing education programs and increasing efforts to bear-proof their towns (Davies et al. 2002). Several other communities that have adopted bear awareness programs have shown similar decreases over the last decade. By 2010, both the City of Kamloops and Squamish have achieved Bear Smart status – indicating their dedication to reducing human-bear conflict in their communities.

Garbage tagging is a form of public education and garbage tagging results in a reduction of garbage on the curb overnight. Bear Aware performed a garbage-tagging experiment in several communities in 2002, comparing the amount of garbage left out after repeated tagging, and compared to areas where there was no tagging. Tagging reduced the garbage on the street after each tagging effort, and tagged areas showed less garbage out on the street than non-tagged areas. (Siderius, 2002). Education works.

Attractant Issues

Please visit the Attractant Management section for more information.

What are some of the major attractants around homes or farms?

Attractants include garbage, fruit, compost, birdseed, pet food, barbeques, empty beer bottles and cans, fish/meat smokehouses, garden produce, livestock and pets (particularly smaller animals that are easily accessible), livestock feed, livestock carcasses, salt for livestock, restaurant grease barrels, water (in dry areas such as Kamloops), and beehives. Some of the less obvious items that are known to attract bears include dynamite (glycerine), fertilizer, bone meal, petroleum-based products (fuels and oils), plastics, rubber, and sewage.

Apples are a natural food, why shouldn’t I let bears eat them? I like to see bears so why shouldn’t I let them eat fruit from my trees?

You may be comfortable with bears in your yard, but your neighbour may not have the same level of tolerance for bears. Bears are unable to distinguish property lines, and even though you don’t mind seeing bears, someone in your neighbourhood will. There are at least two reasons not to allow bears access to fruit trees.

Bears can cause considerable damage to fruit trees. This is damage that you may be willing to accept but may not be acceptable to your neighbours. Damage to fruit trees is one of the major complaints to the Conservation Officer Service. Fruit also draws bears into close proximity to people. This increases the potential for interactions and conflict. Bears may initially feed on fruit along the perimeter of town. They may gradually move further and further into town, feeding on fruit as the supply of fruit on the perimeter is depleted and the bear becomes more comfortable in proximity to people. Fruit is a high quality food that is concentrated in one location. The rewards of a meal of fruit may encourage the habituation of bears to humans. Eventually, the bear may investigate other attractants near populated areas.

Why shouldn’t I put up bird feeders when bears are active?

Birdseed is an excellent source of fats. Birdseed, whether it is in feeders or seed that falls onto the ground, can be highly attractive to bears. Hummingbird feeders can also be an attractant. Consult with the Conservation Officer Service to determine the period that bears are most likely to be active in your area. Note that some bears may be active in winter, particularly in coastal areas of British Columbia where milder winters and the availability of salmon may draw some bears out of their dens. Consider using bird feeders that are designed to be bear-resistant (e.g., a feeder hung at least 6 meters above the ground on a metal pole that a bear cannot climb) or do not put out bird feeders during the period that bears are active (e.g., the Town of Canmore, Alberta only permits the use of birdfeeders between October 31 and April 1). A bear-resistant bird feeder is a feeder that gives bears no access to fat, oils or seeds from the feeder or on the ground. Bird feeders are not critical to bird survival in summer because natural bird foods are abundant in summer. Attract birds by planting natural bird foods that are not bear attractants (if you want to watch birds at feeders. Birdbaths can also be used to attract birds without attracting bears.

Why can’t we feed bears? Why should I care about whether bears get into garbage? (Revised from Ciarniello 1997)

First, in British Columbia “the Wildlife Act now prohibits feeding or intentionally attracting bears. Persons who do so are subject to penalties under the Wildlife Act” (BC Government). Second, human food and garbage can be rich sources of energy for bears that provides incentive for hungry bear to overcome their wariness of humans. Habituation (loss of wariness) of bears to humans associated with human food-conditioning (bears that have learned to seek out foods associated with people) leads to shorter and shorter distances between humans and bears than would otherwise occur. Habituated bears may become more persistent in their attempts to get food from people, their dwellings, or vehicles. Bears that are habituated and human food-conditioned may pose a threat to human safety, damage property, are costly to manage, and may pose a legal liability. Attacks by bears on people are relatively rare. However, human food-conditioning is often cited as a contributing factor in attacks that do occur.

A significant consequence of food-conditioning and human habituation is the threat to bears themselves. When confrontations arise between bears and humans the bear is often destroyed. Furthermore, household garbage and garbage at landfills contain substances and objects that can harm foraging bears (e.g. toxic substances, broken glass, tin cans, plastic buckets).

Many bears that are killed by humans are human food-conditioned. Studies indicate that in some cases high quality human foods can increase the reproductive success of a female bear (i.e. earlier age of reproduction, shorter reproductive interval, larger litter size and increased cub survival). Cubs learn how and where to access food resources from their mother and if their mother is a “garbage bear” then this foraging behaviour is passed to her cubs. However, one study in Alaska found that independent sub-adult and adult grizzly bears that fed on garbage also had higher mortality than bears that were not feeding on garbage. These bears were more likely to be killed by hunters or destroyed by humans in defence of life or property. Hence, despite the increase reproductive success of the bears that were feeding on garbage the population remained relatively stable. In some cases, by providing bears access to our garbage we may be contributing to the production of bear cubs that will be predisposed to an early death.

It seems cruel to cut off the food supply of bears that have learned to depend on garbage as part of their diet. Should feeding stations be established nearby when an electric fence is installed? (Revised from Ciarniello 1997)

We perpetuate the food-conditioning of bears if we continue to provide bears with food associated with humans, such as garbage. The sow teaches her young to forage for human food – continuing the food-conditioning of bears for the next generation. The objective is to break the cycle of human food conditioning in future generations of bears.

  1. The establishment of feeding stations to enhance visitor enjoyment was attempted in two areas within Yellowstone National Park. These areas were discontinued in 1935 and 1942, when it was found that permitting bear’s access to non-natural attractants enforced unwanted behaviour and habituated bears to humans and their structures.
  2. Bear numbers may be artificially elevated because of free and easy access to human-supplied food that can be high quality and easy to digest. Many of these bears will continue to rely on human-supplied food so the problem of food-conditioned bears will not go away (refer to question 4).
  3. The Provincial Wildlife Act prohibits feeding or intentionally attracting bears (BC Government; refer to question 4).

Conflict Prevention

Please visit the Conflict Prevention Section for further details.

Can I use an electric fence to keep bears away from food attractants?

Yes, an electric fence can be very effective at preventing bears from gaining access to attractants. However, an electric fence is only effective if it is installed properly, properly maintained and turned on. Factors that influence the effectiveness of an electric fence include: appropriate grounding and voltage (appropriate charger); secure, taut wiring; proper number of strands of wire; proper distance between posts and regular maintenance to ensure that materials, such as grass, do not cause a short in the fence.

Can an electric fence harm or kill people? (Revised from Ciarniello 1997)

An electric fence hurts but does not harm people. Most modern fence energizers can deliver the desired effect with total safety in the event of accidental human contact. High voltage is combined with low amperage in a pulsating charge. Amperage in an electric fence is at a level to counter the resistance of the fence wire. When a shock is experienced, there is an involuntary muscle contraction. The pulsating charge allows you to let go during the ¾ of a second time off. This is why it is important to use smooth wire and not barbed wire. It is possible that a person’s clothing could get caught in the barbs. Similar electric fence systems are employed at zoos and in livestock areas where there is a requirement for animal control with close proximity to people. Remember, farmers do not want to injure or cause damage to their property (livestock) or to their children and other family members.

Will an electric fence installation around a landfill re-direct bears into town? (Revised from Ciarniello 1997)

People often comment that constructing an electric fence at a landfill site will push bears into town. Remember, an electric fence is only part of the solution to restricting attractants to bears. Local government and individuals must also do their part to ensure that their food and garbage is stored in a bear-resistant manner from the point it is generated (e.g. household garbage is stored in a secure location until pick-up) to the final disposal (e.g. household garbage is taken to a landfill that does not allow access to bears).

There are many variables that can determine whether bears to move into a community in search of food following the electrification of a landfill. No one can predict, with absolute certainty, bear behaviour in and adjacent to communities once access to garbage at a landfill site has been denied. Bears likely include garbage from a landfill site as part of their overall diet and not as a complete diet. A bear may rely on a landfill depending upon many variables including: the individual preferences of the bear; the season and alternative feeding options. The timing of fence installation or activation may also affect the response by bears.

When the community of Mackenzie, BC fenced its landfill there was a marked increase in complaints and human-bear conflict within the community. However, many communities in BC, Alberta, Yukon and NWT did not experience this increase after electric fencing. Haines Junction, Yukon had many radio-collared grizzly bears using their site and a few became problems in the adjacent area.

Several proactive measures can be taken to reduce bear-human conflicts (e.g., an increase in bear activity in town by bears that formerly used the dump) before putting an electric fence around a landfill or excluding bears from a landfill by closing the site including:

  • conduct a pre-exclusion assessment of bear use (e.g., recommendations may be made, based on this information, for the destruction of some bears that are largely dependent on garbage),
  • conduct a human-bear conflict hazard assessment of the site and surrounding area to assess the potential for conflicts to occur in response to closure (e.g., quality of natural habitats, location of travel corridors, proximity of the landfill to the community) and recommendations to mitigate conflicts (e.g. recommendations may be made for bear-proofing specific sites, areas or sources attractants),
  • develop a human-bear conflict management plan including steps for closure and actions to be taken if human-bear conflicts occur,
  • ensure that residential garbage and attractants are secured as much as possible prior to exclusion, and
  • conduct bear awareness education and enforcement programs to support bear-proofing of the community and identify and address problem areas or activities as they occur.

Municipalities sometimes cite the installation of an electric fence as a liability issue that puts them at risk of legal action if bears excluded from the dump move into town. However, we continue to increase risk to humans and the needless mortality of bears if we continue to create human food-conditioned bears.

What items should NOT be put in compost?

The following items should not be put into your compost: all animal products (meat or bones) including fish, bacon fat, oil, grease, dairy products or egg shells. In addition, limit fruit or vegetables to small amounts that have been cut into smaller pieces to promote faster decomposition. Avoid adding grains or cereals.

How do I know if a structure or container is bear-resistant?

The testing and accreditation of all products applying to meet bear-resistance status is conducted at the Grizzly and Wolf testing facility in West Yellowstone, Montana. The Living with Wildlife Foundation (LWWF) is a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to facilitating the coexistence of people and wildlife. LWWF was formed in 2003 to assist communities and wildlife agencies identify sources of human-wildlife conflict and to create effective, practical and affordable solutions and preventions. LWWF works to provide people with the latest information on products and techniques that can be used to address problems with wildlife. LWWF works with vendors of products designed to deter bears and other wildlife. They also inform people about research methods and alternatives for deterring predators; talk to communities about how to minimize conflicts with wildlife; work with other non-profit groups and governmental agencies to solve wildlife-related problems; and work on the ground with individuals and communities to implement solutions to wildlife conflicts. The Living With Wildlife website lists standards for container testing for bear-resistant containers and documents other relevant information.

Various products that have passed this testing and received a “pass” as being bear-resistant can be found on the LWWF website at:

I built a box of plywood and 2x4s to store my garbage cans and now the bears don’t get into my garbage. Why do I need a more expensive and secure container?

Note: the person saying this still has neighbours with abundant and easily accessible attractants. What will happen if everyone uses plywood boxes?

Bears are strong and their claws are well adapted for breaking into wooden containers. Bears commonly rip apart logs to forage on ants in summer in their natural habitat. Bears, even small black bears, can easily rip the doors off cars or the sides off of trailers to gain access to human foods.

Containers made of wood are not considered bear-resistant. Bears may not break into your garbage storage box now because these are abundant and easer opportunities nearby. If your neighbours also secure their garbage and make food less accessible to bears, the bears (particularly bears that are already food-conditioned), may become more persistent and inventive in their efforts to gain access to your garbage.

How can I prevent bears from getting into my garbage if I don’t have a garage or basement to store my garbage in?

Garbage should not be stored in areas that are accessible to bears, including open carports and aluminium garden sheds. Some dwellings such as mobile homes, condominiums, and apartments may not have appropriate bear-resistant garbage storage space. Homes may not have a basement or securely enclosed garage and the odour from garbage can be offensive from garbage stored in living areas. Freezing the smelly bits of garbage (e.g. fish, meat, vegetable leftovers) until pick-up day greatly reduces odour from garbage. More frequent trips to the garbage dump (perhaps in co-operation with neighbours) can also reduce the amount and smell of garbage. Speaking to your manager about providing a locking dumpster may also be an option. There is information on Bear Resistant containers. Effective solutions may be achieved at a municipal level by investigating alternative waste storage options such as bear-resistant dumpsters that can service multiple dwellings.

Literature Cited

BC Government. date unknown. Safety guide to bears in the wild. Brochure. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and Ministry of Forests. Victoria, BC, Canada

Ciarniello, L.M. 1997. Reducing human-bear conflicts: solution through better management of non-natural foods. Bear-human conflict committee: British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks.

Davis, H., D.W. Wellwood, and L.M. Ciarniello. 2002. “Bear Smart” community program: background report. British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. Victoria, BC, Canada

Hellgren, E.C, 1998. Physiology of hibernation in bears. Ursus 10:467-477.

Herrero S. 2003. Bear attacks: their causes and avoidance. New Revised Edition. McClellend & Stewart Ltd.

Ralf, R. 1995. History of bear/human conflict management in Jasper National Park: 1907 to 1995. Unpublished report.

Rogers, L.L., G.A. Wilker, and S.S. Scott 1991. Reactions of black bears to human menstrual odours. J. Wildl. Manage. 55(4):632-634

Safety in Bear Country Society. 2001. Staying safe in Bear Country: a behavioural-based approach to reducing risk. Video produced by Wildeye Productions. Atlin, BC in association with AV Action Yuko Ltd.

Siderius, J. 2002. Bear Aware Provincial Garbage Tagging Experiment, 2002. British Columbia Conservation Foundation. 28pp.

Town of Canmore. Unknown. Town of Canmore Bylaw 12-97: a bylaw to regulate the collection and disposal of waste within the Town of Canmore. Canmore, Alberta, Canada.