The future of fruit trees

Column by our local WildSafe BC coordinator

Happy fall, Columbia Valley! It’s the time of year to reflect on the goings-on in our region, wind down from the busyness of summer, and settle into the slow season. It’s also a time typically loaded with human-bear conflict, and if you have a fruit tree in the area you may have had a visit from myself, the Radium/RDEK WildSafeBC coordinator, or one of the Conservation Officers. We had the usual heightened conflict this September, which happens annually as the nights get colder and bears prepare for surviving the winter months.

It was also a season full of fruit. Apples, pears, crabapples, plums, chokecherries… you name it. Many residents had much more on their trees than they could easily manage. In order to prevent bears from being attracted to properties with fruit and becoming habituated or food-conditioned, WildSafeBC and the Conservation Officer Service made a significant effort this year to reach out to homeowners and remind them about this attractant.

Many trees were not ready for picking and residents were waiting for the fruit to ripen, or waiting until after the first frost. Some residents were away, and did not receive messaging until several weeks later. Others were unable to pick their fruit themselves, or had too much fruit to manage.

Many residents were confused about the act of “managing” fruit. I received many calls regarding how early residents were expected to pick apples. This was a difficult question to answer, but Conservation Officer Kruger was able to clarify it further, saying that as long as a resident is being diligent, picking fruit once it was ready to eat, and cleaning up anything that fell on the ground, it was considered reasonable. It is important to note that unripe fruit may still attract a bear, but the bear is less likely to be attracted to it, and so priority number one is taking care of ripe fruit.

WildSafeBC only has two employees in the region, and liability insurance is not available to send enough people with the right resources into the community to pick fruit. On top of this, one cannot simply go onto a property without asking and remove fruit from the trees. This makes fruit trees a more complicated attractant that require significant planning and organization to address at a community level.

In order to reduce the wildlife attractant volume in the future, to ensure that seniors and other residents have help picking, to employ the right messaging to second homeowners with fruit, and make our communities a safer place, WildSafeBC Invermere is exploring the option of working with other community groups and plan for next year’s fruit season. We would appreciate fruit tree owners contacting us now in order to prepare for next season. We can then link owners with volunteers far in advance and create an “adopt a tree” program for next year, where partnerships between homeowners and other community members can both benefit from the fruit, share it, and prevent bears from getting into trouble at the same time.

There are alternatives to dealing with an abundance of fruit. Removing a fruit tree and replacing it with a non-fruit-bearing variety, along with pruning or spraying off blossoms in the spring, are other ways to manage attractants, especially if the fruit isn’t very edible or if no one wants it.

For information or inquiries about the “Adopt a Tree” program in Invermere, or if you have questions about attractant management in general, please contact Andrea Smillie at (250) 341-9281 ext. 1230.

For information on WildSafeBC, check out our website or our Facebook page “WildSafeBC Columbia Valley.”

To report human-wildlife conflict, please call the RAPP line (Conservation Officer Service) at 1-877-952-7277. The sooner a bear is reported in your neighborhood, the earlier we can try to remove an attractant and the better chance it has for survival.

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