North·Video

Biologists use dogs to chase bears away from Carcross, Yukon

Two behavioural biologists say using dogs to chase grizzly bears out of populated areas is an effective way to keep bears away from people.

Researchers say using bear-proof garbage cans and dogs helps protect bears and communities alike

Lori Homstol and Claire Edwards used Karelian bear dogs to chase several grizzly families out of Carcross. (Meagan Dueling/CBC)

Two behavioural biologists say using dogs to chase grizzly bears out of populated areas is an effective way to keep bears away from people — and dangerous situations. 

Lori Homstol and Claire Edwards use specially-trained Karelian bear dogs to chase several grizzly families out of Carcross. There were recently a few sows and their cubs in the community, eating soapberries and digging up roots.

The biologists spent eight days tracking the bears until the dogs stopped picking up their scent. Homstol and Edwards are with the Canadian branch of the Wind River Bear Institute, an organization that works to reduce the number of bear deaths caused by interactions with humans.

Homstol says they saw a bear nearly every day. When they saw it they'd yell at it, or shoot it with paint balls, until it left the area. Homstol says their dogs do most of the work.

"I can tell when he smells a bear that's 100 metres away because he'll pull and he has certain body language that let's me know that there's a bear there," she said.

Wary bears

It helps that Carcross is a small community. "We just patrolled the whole community and came up with the hotspots — this is where we're seeing the bears, so they'd spend more time in those areas, if they needed to," Homstol said. The researchers say bears in the area are still wary of humans, which is a good sign.

The biologists drove around with the dog's head out the window. The dogs bark when a bear's close. Then they return later on foot. "They'd track to a scat and there'd be soapberries in it, they'd track to a bunch of digs, bear roots digs, and we didn't find any garbage or unnatural food that they were into."

Holmstol and Edwards say it's easier to get a bear to leave a community when it's not interested in its garbage. The biologists say their method keeps bears alive and communities safe.

The Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Yukon Conservation Officer Service funded the 10-day study.

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