Poor berry season means bears will be scrounging for other food sources, says wildlife expert

Thanks to a sub-par buffaloberry crop this summer, biologists say many bears will be searching for other food sources this fall before they hit their winter dens.

Alberta's cool spring and hot summer stunted berry growth

A grizzly bear eats buffaloberries in this handout photo from Parks Canada. (Alex Taylor/Parks Canada)

Thanks to a sub-par buffaloberry crop this summer, wildlife experts say many bears are now facing some added challenges as they try to fatten up for winter.

Fewer of the berries grew because of the cool spring followed by a very hot summer.

Wildlife experts says this means bears will be searching for other food sources to build up enough calories before they go into their winter dens.

John Paczkowski, a provincial senior park ecologist, says the bears tend to hang around the berry patches when the crop is good, and move away earlier when the crop is thin.

"Everything about a bear's life and success is based on calories and being able to get enough calories," he said.

"When you see a deficit in those berries they start looking for other sources and they have to sort of scrimp and scrape to get their calorie budget up and then they start maybe crossing those lines and coming into contact with human food."

Paczkowski says some hungry black bears have already wandered into communities, so officials are urging people to remove potential attractants like fruit on their trees, garbage and pet food.

"The bears have got six to eight weeks now to get their calorie bank up to full so they can go into the den, so they're really going to be keying into those rich food sources."

Reminder to stay bear safe

According to an education campaign from the Town of Banff and the Town of Canmore, when bears learn where to get food, they'll return there again and again, getting bolder each time: "Even without contact, a bear in town may need to be relocated away from its home. Repeat visitors may even need to be killed."

The Town of Canmore runs a voluntary fruit tree removal program where it will help cover the cost of removing fruit-bearing trees in certain areas.

And Bow Valley WildSmart, a conservation program run out of the Biosphere Institute, has pruning shears and extendable fruit pickers that can be borrowed for free by any Bow Valley resident who is removing fruit and berries from their trees.

Officials are also advising people to stay bear safe ahead of the long weekend.

They say carrying items like bear spray as well as making noise, travelling in groups and keeping dogs on leashes are all important when in the mountains.

With files from Dave Gilson


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