Bears, cougars and other large mammals are a fact of life on most rural lands in North America.
Recently, we found evidence of a cougar (mountain lion) attack on a deer not 200 feet from our back porch. And we have got a big, fat male black bear living not too far into the forest just behind our property.
However, it wasn’t always that way.
I grew up in the Nation. As kids, we played in the paths in the dense bush for hours on end. Never, ever did we even consider coming across a bear, a cougar, an elk or any of the other wild animals that we see (or see signs of) so frequently these days. And we never actually ran into any.
Whether the inhabitants have grown, or the animals’ movement patterns have changed, I don’t know. Probably a bit of both. We seldom saw deer in our neighbourhoods back in the 1970s and 1980s. Now they are everywhere! Now I’ll admit, it is actually reassuring to know they’re out there in larger numbers now, like maybe we have turned a corner after nearly extinguishing them in the last hundred plus years. But with a young child at home who loves to play outdoors, I do not want them too close.
So how do you ensure that living on your rural property won’t put you in conflict with the neighborhood large wildlife?
What NOT To Do
You can reduce the chance you will have problems with wildlife on your rural property by ensuring you are not guilty of any of the following:
Bears love pet food, and if a bear is in your porch munching dog chow, chances are the bear will wind up dead. If the feeding continues, it is going to get more and more aggressive in its pursuit of its favourite, easy food source, and you will probably have to call the police (conservation officer, police, etc.) to deal with it. Raccoons, rats and all sorts of other animals are also attracted to pet food – and all these will encourage predatory animals such as coyotes to start frequenting your property. If you have got livestock, you definitely don’t want coyotes drifting around. Alternately, you can feed your pet in a secure area which isn’t available to bears. But emptying the bowl, and keeping the bag of food safe, is your safest bet.
You have a messy compost pile. Hungry bears love unkempt compost piles full of smelly, half-digested fruits and vegetables – it is a yummy meal for our furry, big four-legged friends. What to do instead: Add a layer of’carbonous’ material (dried leaves, dried lawn clippings, straw, shredded newspaper, etc.) every time you add your kitchen scraps, and aerate the pile every few days with an aerator or a long, straight stick. If you do that, the material should decompost quickly enough that the odor will not attract curious bears. In my previous life, I was a part of a group that produced a video on’composting in bear country’ – you can see it here: bearcountry.gardensmart.ca. It is a comprehensive resource that will help you maintain bears safe and away from your premises.
Fruit is left on your own trees outside ripening. Fruit is like candy to a bear, and they will do most anything to get it within their bellies, including ripping apart your own fruit trees – or anything standing in their way. If you wind up with fallen fruit, the best option would be to spoil it immediately under at least 12″ of dirt. The purpose is to eliminate the smell from wafting on the breeze. Trust me, you don’t want to wake up one morning and find a black bear lounging in your apple tree. Chances are it will end up dead, as bears habituated to eating meals around people is not likely to change their ways, and become a potential danger to pets, children, and adults alike. I’m actually amazed there aren’t more injuries, to tell the truth.
Someone in your family purposely feeds wildlife. In many jurisdictions, feeding wildlife is against the law, as it creates a dependence on and habituation to continued feeding. The only exception to this is probably birds. Here’s an extreme example: In August of 2010, a dozen bears were found surrounding a grow-op in south-central British Columbia during a bust by authorities. Apparently the people who lived on the property was feeding them so they’d hang out and guard the surgery. I’m not sure what happened to the grow-op bears, but chances are it will not turn out very well. What to do : Just do not do it, regardless of how exciting it might be to see wildlife on your property. We love watching wildlife – it is part of the reason we moved to the country. But we would never think about feeding them on purpose. It just can’t be done.
Garbage is left out, unprotected. Garbage left out, whether in bags or cans, is a wildlife attractant, plain and simple. In its least hazardous, crows, ravens and other small creatures will get into it and spread litter around your premises. Messy, but not life-threatening. At the opposite end of the scale, it will attract bears and other large, opportunistic feeders, who’ll become accustomed to the easy foods and will get mighty ticked off if anything stands in their way. If you have never noticed what a bear can do in its quest for food, just Google’bear damage’ and see what pops up. What to do : Keep crap secured at a’bear-resistant’ garbage container, or secured within a secure building. Make sure any smelly garbage (fish bones, etc.) is buried, burned or frozen until garbage day, and any paper or plastic wrappers from meat, chicken or fish are well rinsed before they go in the garbage.
Now, if some of the above situations sound familiar to you, don’t worry. We’ve all done had at least one of these occur on our properties at one time or another. We are all busy, and things get overlooked. But the truth is, it’s simple to dramatically reduce the chance of conflict with bears and other major wildlife. The changes listed above could be made instantly, and without any outlay of cash.