Bears, cougars and other large mammals are a fact of life on most rural lands in North America.
Recently, we discovered evidence of a cougar (mountain lion) attack on a bull not 200 feet from our backyard. And we’ve got a big, fat male black bear living not too far into the woods just behind our property.
However, it wasn’t always that way.
I grew up in the country. As children, we played in the trails in the dense bush for hours and hours. Never, ever did we even think about coming across a bear, a cougar, an elk or any of the other wild creatures that we see (or see signs of) so often these days. And we never really ran into any.
Whether the populations have grown, or the animals’ movement patterns have changed, I do not know. Probably a little of both. We rarely saw deer in our neighbourhoods back in the 1970s and 1980s. Now they’re everywhere! Now I will admit, it is actually reassuring to know they are out there in larger 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 don’t 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?
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 these:
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 favourite, simple food source, and you will likely have to call the authorities (conservation officer, police, etc.) to take care of it. Raccoons, rats and all kinds of other creatures are also attracted to pet food – and all of these can encourage predatory animals such as coyotes to begin frequenting your property. If you have got livestock, you don’t want coyotes wandering around. Things to do instead: If your pet leaves uneaten food in its bowl, empty the bowl promptly. Alternately, you can feed your pet in a secure place which isn’t accessible to bears. But emptying the bowl, and maintaining 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 vegetables – it is a yummy meal for our furry, large four-legged friends. If you do that, the material should decompost fast enough that the odor will not attract curious bears. In my previous life, I was a part of a team that produced a video on’composting in bear country’ – you can view it here: bearcountry.gardensmart.ca. It is a comprehensive resource to assist 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’ll do most anything to get it within their bellies, such as ripping apart your fruit trees – or anything standing in their way. If you end up with fallen fruit, the best option is to bury it immediately under at least 12″ of soil. The goal is to eliminate the odor 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 end up dead, as bears habituated to eating food around people is unlikely to change their ways, and become a potential threat to pets, kids, and adults alike. I am actually amazed there are not more injuries, to be honest.
Someone in your family purposely feeds wildlife. In many authorities, feeding wildlife is against the law, as it creates a dependency on and habituation to continued feeding. The only exception to this is likely birds. Here’s an extreme example: In August of 2010, a dozen bears were discovered surrounding a grow-op in south-central British Columbia during a separation by authorities. Apparently the people who lived on the property had been 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 won’t turn out very well. Things to do instead: Just don’t do it, irrespective 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 cans or bags, is a wildlife attractant, plain and simple. At its least dangerous, crows, ravens and other small creatures will enter it and spread litter around your premises. Messy, but not life-threatening. At the other end of the scale, it will attract bears and other big, opportunistic feeders, who’ll become accustomed to the simple meals and will get mighty ticked off if anything stands in their way. If you’ve never noticed what a bear can do in its quest for food, just Google’bear damage’ and see what pops up. And as the old adage goes, ‘a fed bear is a dead bear’. What to do instead: Keep garbage secured at a’bear-resistant’ garbage container, or locked inside a safe building. Ensure any smelly garbage (fish bones, etc.) is buried, burnt or frozen until garbage day, and any plastic or paper wrappers from meat, fish or poultry are well rinsed before they go in the garbage. This will go a long way in making your garbage less attractive to bears.
Now, if any of the above situations sound familiar to you, don’t worry. We’re all busy, and things get overlooked. But the truth is, it’s easy to dramatically reduce the probability of conflict with bears and other big wildlife. The changes listed above could be made instantly, and without any outlay of cash.