Bears, cougars and other large mammals are a simple fact of life on many rural properties in North America.
Recently, we found evidence of a cougar (mountain lion) assault on a deer not 200 feet from our backyard. And we have got a big, fat male black bear living not too far into the forest just behind our property.
However, it was not always that way.
I grew up in the country. As children, we played in the trails in the dense bush for hours and hours. As teens, we wandered around in the pitch black of the rural night, doing the crazy things teenagers do. Never, ever did we even consider coming across a bear, a cougar, an elk or any of the other wild creatures that we see (or see signs of) so frequently these days. And we never really ran into any.
Whether the inhabitants have grown, or the animals’ movement patterns have changed, I don’t know. Probably a little of both. We rarely saw deer in our neighbourhoods back in the 1970s and 1980s. Now they’re everywhere! And where there are deer, of course, there are predators. Now I’ll admit, it is actually reassuring to know they’re out there in greater numbers today, like maybe we’ve turned a corner after nearly extinguishing them in the last hundred plus years. But with a young child in the home who loves to play outdoors, I do not want them too close.
So how do you ensure that residing on your rural property will not put you in conflict with the neighborhood large wildlife?
You can reduce the chance you’ll have problems with wildlife on your rural property by ensuring you are not guilty of any of the following:
You keep bowls of pet food out. Bears love pet food, and when a bear is on your porch munching dog chow, odds are the bear will end up dead. If the feeding continues, it will get more and more aggressive in its pursuit of its favorite, easy food supply, and you will likely have to call the authorities (conservation officer, authorities, etc.) to take care of it. Raccoons, rats and all sorts of other creatures are also attracted to pet food – and all these can encourage predatory animals such as coyotes to begin frequenting your property. If you’ve got livestock, you don’t want coyotes wandering around. What to do instead: If your pet leaves uneaten food in its bowl, empty the bowl promptly. Alternately, you can feed your pet in a safe place that isn’t accessible to bears. But emptying the bowl, and keeping the bag of food secure, is your safest bet.
You have a messy compost pile. Hungry bears love unkempt compost piles full of smelly, half-digested fruits and veggies – it’s a yummy meal for our furry, big four-legged friends. If you do this, the material should decompost quickly enough that the smell will not attract curious bears. In my previous life, I was part of a team that produced a video on’composting in bear country’ – you can see it here: bearcountry.gardensmart.ca. It’s a comprehensive resource that will help you maintain bears safe and away from the property.
Fruit is left on your own trees beyond ripening. Fruit is like candy to a bear, and they will do most anything to get it within their bellies, such as tearing apart your own fruit trees – or anything standing in their way. Things to do instead: Always pick fruit as it ripens, and keep it off the ground. If you end up with fallen fruit, the best option would be to spoil it immediately under at least 12″ of dirt. The goal is to eliminate the smell from wafting on the breeze. Trust me, you do not want to wake up one morning and find a black bear lounging on your apple tree. Chances are it will wind up dead, as bears habituated to eating meals around humans is not likely to change their ways, and become a potential threat to pets, children, and adults alike. I am actually amazed there are not more injuries, to be honest.
Someone in your household purposely feeds wildlife. In most jurisdictions, feeding wildlife is against the law, as it creates a dependency 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 at south-central British Columbia during a bust by police. Apparently the people who lived on the property had been feeding them so they’d hang out and guard the operation. I’m not certain what happened to the grow-op bears, but chances are it will not turn out very well. Things to do : Just don’t do it, regardless of how exciting it might be to see wildlife on your property. We love watching wildlife – it’s part of the reason we moved to the country. But we would never think about feeding them on purpose. It simply can’t be done.
Garbage is left outside, unprotected. Garbage left outside, whether in bags or cans, is a wildlife attractant, plain and simple. At its least dangerous, crows, ravens and other smaller creatures will enter it and spread litter around your property. Messy, but not life-threatening. At the opposite end of the scale, it is going to attract bears and other big, opportunistic feeders, who will become accustomed to the easy foods and will get mighty ticked off if anything stands in their way. What to do : Keep garbage secured at a’bear-resistant’ garbage container, or secured inside a secure building. Make sure any smelly garbage (fish bones, etc.) is buried, burnt 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 seem 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 easy to dramatically reduce the probability of conflict with bears and other major wildlife. The changes listed above can be made immediately, and without any outlay of cash.