British Columbia

Making berries out of bear scat: This B.C. man harvests plant seeds from poop

Does a bear poop in the woods? Yes, and then Jesse Ritcey harvests it for seeds.

'It is kind of gross,' admits Jesse Ritcey, who mixes scat with water to isolate seeds

Jesse Ritcey has used bear scat to cultivate wild roses, Saskatoon berries and red osier dogwood. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

It's not uncommon for hikers to take photos of the scenery or selfies on top of a mountain during a hike, but if you know Jesse Ritcey, you're more likely to send him pictures of bear poo. 

He's not mad about it — in fact, he asks friends to send photos and even collect samples of bear scat if they safely can.

Ritcey uses the scat, which is full of seeds, to find the beginnings of berries and other plants that he can use in his garden. 

In his backyard in Kamloops, B.C., he has a tray set up filled with red-brown water, the result of adding water to scat, which Ritcey said is filled with huckleberries. 

"I make a kind of a slurry, just put it in the tray, add a little water to help it rot down because all I want is the seeds. I don't need all this pulp and residue," he said. 

The slurry containing bear scat and water eventually isolates seeds that can be planted, Ritcey says. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

"I mean, it is kind of gross," he said. "I just leave it in the tray and walk away and then when I come back in the fall it's seed."

He said the idea came from a blog post he read, which described a nursery for native plants that had done the same thing. 

"It really gave people a good idea of what the bears were eating, where, and what elevation and time of year," said Ritcey, who has a diploma in horticulture and is an avid member of the local naturalist club. 

So far, he said, he's had more success with lower elevation samples. He guesses that's probably because the higher elevation samples didn't grow as well when they were brought to a lower, warmer altitude. 

"I'm going to have to work on that to get those berries to germinate properly," he said. 

He considered putting them in the fridge, but didn't want to because of the "ick factor," so he said he may take the samples to the top of a hill and leave them there to reach the lower temperature they need for germination.

The project has helped Ritcey cultivate wild roses, Saskatoon berries and red osier dogwood. This year, he's after wax currants. 

"They're really good for pollinators," he said. "They're sort of a cool shrub. I'm looking for those in particular — but I don't know how you would really go about doing that."

With files from Doug Herbert

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