Buffaloberry (Sheperdia canadensis) is a highly sought-after food for grizzly and black bears. Grizzly bears can eat up to 100,000 buffalo berries a day.
In the Bow Valley, buffalo berries ripen in mid-July and make up a large part of bears’ diets until late August. Crop size fluctuates greatly from year to year. Berry bushes are most abundant where the forest canopy has ‘opened up,’ which is common near developments, trails and other man-made structures.
Buffalo berries are bright red, yellow and orange and measure about 4 mm wide. Berry bushes can reach 1.5 metres tall and have oval, dark green leaves.
Other fruit-bearing shrubs and trees such as dogwoods, chokecherries and wolf willow also attract bears. These species also grow near high human use areas such as parks, neighbourhoods, campgrounds and trails.
Bears seek out these foods regardless of their proximity to human activity, and they can develop a high tolerance to human presence if there is food available. Bears can become so engrossed in eating that they become unaware of human activity, and can be easily startled. This can elicit a defensive response from the bear, particularly females with cubs, which poses a risk to public safety.
Berry removal programs eliminate attractants from human use areas, allowing bears to seek food elsewhere, such as in less developed areas within Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country. Bush clearing and prescribed burns for the Mountain Pine Beetle programs are creating more open habitat for buffalo berry in these undeveloped areas.
Garbage is another major attractant for bears. The Bow Valley has taken a proactive approach to garbage management. In 1999 and 2000, respectively, Canmore and the Municipal District of Bighorn installed bear-proof garbage bins. The municipalities also eliminated curbside garbage pick-up, greatly reducing the number of bears coming into town. Canmore went a step further, banning bird feeders between April 1 and November 30.
While these regulations have greatly reduced human-wildlife conflicts, other unnatural attractants are still found in town. These include unsecured recycling, non-functioning bear proof garbage bins, pets, pet food, barbeques, and outdoor compost. All of these attractants have been linked to human-wildlife conflict in the Bow Valley and create a concern for public safety and wildlife safety.
When a bear feeds on an unnatural attractant, it can become food-conditioned and will continue to seek out similar food sources. Eventually, these bears are relocated or destroyed. On average, relocated bears have only a 50% survival rate.
The public must stay informed and proactively remove these attractants to prevent conflicts with bears and other wildlife.