CARNIVORES AND COMMUNITIES

  1. Background

    Photo by Parks Canada

    Photo by Parks Canada

    The Carnivores and Communities program was initiated by Waterton Biosphere Reserve (WBR) in 2009 in response to increasing conflicts between large carnivores and people in southwestern Alberta. In this unique corner of Alberta, farmers and ranchers share the landscape with several large carnivore species – including wolves, cougars, black bears, and grizzly bears. Rural communities are experiencing high rates of conflicts with large carnivores, often related to livestock, grain, and other animal feed. While all four large carnivore species may be involved in conflicts, the majority of conflicts in this region are attributed to wolves and grizzly bears.

    When conflicts occur between humans and large carnivores, the impacts on landowners are diverse and can include depredation on livestock or pets, consumption and spoilage of grain, silage and field crops, damage to beehives, grain bins and farm buildings, and concern for the safety of family and neighbours. These conflicts not only create increased safety risks and financial costs for people, but they also impact large carnivore populations, as animals involved in conflict may be relocated or killed.

    The Carnivores and Communities program works with landowners and other partners to reduce conflicts between people and large carnivores, a benefit to both human and large carnivore populations. The program is multi-faceted and targets reducing attractants for large carnivores, reducing the economic impact on landowners coexisting with large carnivores, and enhancing the safety of all residents.

    Program highlights are outlined in the sections below:

  2. Landowner Perceptions and Attitudes Towards Large Carnivores

    Waterton Biosphere Reserve (WBR) conducted a survey of landowners in the southwestern corner of the province in 2009. The  Miistakis Institute was commissioned to develop and implement a landowner survey to better understand carnivore issues important to the community and values pertaining to large carnivores and their management. WBR held two public meetings in June of 2010 to share the results of the survey. The results indicated that residents were concerned about growing carnivore populations, the increasing frequency of conflicts with large carnivores, and the impacts of carnivores on local livelihoods and community safety. The frustration of local landowners was clearly expressed at the meetings. However, the survey also indicated that the majority of residents agreed that it was important to them to know that carnivore populations persist in the region; more than 70% agreed that people and large carnivores can successfully share a landscape if properly managed.

    This willingness to consider a landscape shared with large carnivores is reflected in the actions of local communities. Inspired by work done in Montana at the Blackfoot Challenge (BCF), landowners, landowner groups like the Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership and Chief Mountain Landowners Information Network, municipalities, and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources Development (AESRD) began in 2008 to undertake projects to reduce conflicts by managing carnivore attractants across southwestern Alberta.

  3. Waterton Biosphere Reserve Carnivore Working Group (CWG)

    The WBR was approached by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) in the fall of 2011 to coordinate and manage a 3-year grant to support community-based, landowner driven project initiatives to reduce human-carnivore conflict issues in southwestern Alberta, with a specific focus on grizzly bears, black bears and wolves. AESRD, now Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has provided additional funding to extend the project to March 2017. WBR established the Carnivore Working Group (CWG), as a committee of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association (WBRA), to guide the use of grant funds.  The WBR CWG is composed primarily of livestock producers who represent the communities in the municipalities of Cardston, Ranchland, Willow Creek, and Pincher Creek, and also includes representation from the four municipalities, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), AESRD, and Fish and Wildlife Officers (Solicitor General). The WBR CWG operates on a collaborative, consensus-based model.  The work of the WBR CWG is coordinated by Jeff Bectell, local rancher and current Chair of the WBRA with on-the ground support from Tony Bruder, another local rancher and chair for the Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership (DYCP).

    The WBR CWG terms of reference and work plan outlines an ambitious project including completion of landowner-driven projects and other agricultural practice change efforts that reduce human carnivore conflicts, development of a common knowledge base and implementation of effective communication strategies related to large carnivore issues, and development a long-term strategy for balancing coexistence of large carnivores and humans in southwestern Alberta.

    The vision of the WBR CWG is community-centred and strives to achieve the following outcomes:

    • People and large carnivores can both have a place on the landscape in southwestern Alberta.
    • Economic losses to the ranchers and farmers of the area are prevented through cooperative projects.
    • When economic losses occur, due to large carnivores, the individuals are fairly compensated.
    • Projects improve public safety and prevent bears and wolves from becoming problem animals.
    • Accurate bear and wolf population numbers are determined, and these numbers are instrumental in managing the populations at levels that are appropriate and sustainable, both biologically, and within the context of keeping human-carnivore conflicts to minimum.

    The WBR CWG links with and enhances collaborative work already taking place in the region by landowners and groups including Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership (DYCP), Chief Mountain Landowners Information Network (CMLIN), the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), Waterton Biosphere Reserve, and the municipalities of Cardston , Pincher Creek, Ranchland and Willow Creek.

    Annual reports for the AESRD/AEP grants can be found here.

  4. Reduction of Large Carnivore Attractants

    Restricting access to attractants can significantly reduce carnivore-human conflicts. In southwestern Alberta, the primary agricultural attractants include dead livestock (deadstock), granaries, bee yards, livestock, and calving areas. In order to decrease conflicts with large carnivores, the Carnivores and Communities program provides support to activities designed to remove or reduce carnivore attractants. Current attractant management projects are outlined below including removing dead livestock from the landscape, making grain and feed storage facilities more secure, and installing electric fencing to keep carnivores away from other attractants.

    In addition, WBR has produced two reports summarizing mitigation efforts.  The first report, Large Carnivore Attractant Management Projects in Southwestern Alberta 2008-2012  describes the history of community-based carnivore mitigation efforts in southwestern Alberta, and summarizes all projects completed up to December 2012.  The second report Large Carnivore Attractant Management Projects in Southwestern Alberta 2013-2014 summarizes projects from 2013 to 2014.

    The Carnivores and Communities program has also produced three technical guides designed to support landowner efforts to reduce conflicts with large carnivores. These guides are available in PDF format (see below) or by contacting WBR.

    WBR Carnivores and Communities Technical Guide: Deadstock Removal Program 

    WBR Carnivores and Communities Technical Guide: Electric Fencing

    WBR Carnivores and Communities Technical Guide: Securing Your Grain Storage

    Deadstock Removal Program:

    On-farm or “land” disposal of livestock carcasses has increased since the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Alberta cattle in 2003.  Prior to the discovery of BSE, rendering companies removed deadstock from farms and ranches free of charge as the carcasses held commercial value to the rendering company. Post-BSE changes to regulations now require separate disposal of specified risk material (SRM), tissues that are capable of transmitting BSE.  This has decreased the profitability for carcass rendering companies and livestock producers are now charged for carcass removal. These charges are often prohibitive to producers, which has resulted in an increase in land disposal of deadstock. The use of on-farm carcass dumps or “bone-yards”, particularly during the spring calving season, can create an attractant to bears, cougars, and wolves.

    Deadstock pickup bins in the Waterton Biosphere Reserve

    WBR Deadstock Removal Program Area

    To eliminate this attractant, the WBR Deadstock Removal Program has been designed to completely remove the livestock carcasses from the landscape. Building on the efforts of local landowner groups, the program has now grown to include free deadstock pickup for producers on over 500000 hectares (1.2 million acres) in the municipalities of Cardston, Pincher Creek, Ranchland, and Willow Creek. The deadstock program is different in each of the four municipalities, but funds from Carnivores and Communities program supporters are used to ensure that there is no cost to producers for deadstock pickup within the large carnivore area. The municipalities help with administration of the program and the dispersal of funds.

    In Ranchland and Willow Creek deadstock are picked up on-farm by a rendering company. In Pincher Creek and Cardston there are twelve bear-proof bins where producers can drop off their deadstock, particularly calves. Deadstock bins are fabricated of 14 gauge steel sheeting with a hinged lid for easy carcass disposal, and a drop end for bin unloading. The bins are placed on private property or road allowances and maintained on a regular basis by volunteer landowners and/or the municipality.

    Photo by Nora Manners/WBR

    Photo by Nora Manners/WBR

    Registered landowners place deadstock in the bins (in accordance with Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) procedures) and the bins are emptied by a rendering company as required. The rendering company also does on-farm pickup of large animals.

    For more information on the current program please refer to the WBR Carnivores and Communities Technical Guide on the Deadstock Removal Program .

    Deadstock Composting Facility:

    Composting of livestock carcasses can be an efficient and cost effective way to dispose of deadstock. In 2012, Cardston County partnered with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) and Growing Forward to build a carcass composting facility; the first municipal deadstock composting facility in Canada. The facility is modelled after a successful carcass composting facility managed by the Blackfoot Challenge (BCF) in Montana as part of their carnivore attractant reduction program.

    From late January 2013 to April 30, 2014, 851 livestock carcasses in Cardston County, including animals which are not accepted by rendering companies like sheep and goats, were picked up from the deadstock bins and on-farm by a county employee and composted at the facility. Operational costs for pickup and composting were  paid through the WBR Deadstock Removal Program  similar to other designated deadstock pickup areas.

    As a pilot project, the municipal composting program had to overcome several budgetary and regulatory issues. In April 2014, Cardston County felt it was best to suspend the program until these issues were resolved. Since then, a rendering company has once again been contracted to empty dead stock bins and do on-farm pickups. Efforts are currently underway to get the municipal compost facility in operation again.

    Feed Storage Security and Electric Fencing:

    Photo by Nora Manners/WBR

    Photo by Nora Manners/WBR

    When given the opportunity, grizzly and black bears will eat grain, silage, honey producing hives, and other livestock feed. Once bears learn where these foods can be obtained, they will rip apart silage bags, bee yards, and wooden buildings, dig through wooden bin floors, or pull doors off of steel bins to gain access. Grain bin retrofits such as bear-proof doors, steel or concrete bin floors, and installation of hopper bottoms can eliminate bear access.

    Electric fencing of agricultural attractants can also be an effective deterrent for bears and wolves. Depending on the attractant, fencing can be installed as a permanent or temporary measure. Six-strand electric fences, with alternating hot/cold wires, have been used successfully to deter bears in southwestern Alberta.

    Bear Resistant Garbage/Feed Storage Bins:

    When bears find garbage and other unnatural food sources in a yard, it may lead to a food conditioned bear. Over time, this bear may associate ‘food’ with ‘humans’ and may become very bold and dangerous in an attempt to get food in and around people. Bears drawn into the yard by garbage may then be tempted to stick around for pet food, fruit trees, garden, compost, livestock, grain, or any number of attractants in the yard site.

    In southwestern Alberta, 80% of all black bear incidents reported to the Government of Alberta in 2014 were related to attractants. Of these incidents, 46% were related to garbage. These conflicts come with financial costs and increased safety risk for people. They also impact large carnivore populations, as animals involved in conflict may be relocated or killed.  To mitigate these damages and costs, Waterton Biosphere Reserve (WBR) has started a bear-resistant garbage bin program for both garbage and small feed storage.

    The program aims to reduce household garbage, pet, and livestock feed as an attractant to both black and grizzly bears by offering bear-resistant storage options. Long term, the WBR hopes these efforts will help reduce human-large carnivore conflicts, and associated costs, on farms, ranches, acreages, and in hamlets.

    What makes bear-resistant garbage bins different than regular garbage bins?

    A certified bear-resistant garbage bin has been tested by captive grizzly bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana and have been approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. The bins offered by WBR are made by Toter. They are double walled poly, have a steel-reinforced rim and a self-latching mechanism that bears cannot open. Like most garbage bins, they are on wheels so they’re easy to move around for either garbage or animal feed storage. They are also warrantied for up to three years.

    How does the program work?

    WBR received grant funds to help subsidize bin costs. Bear-resistant garbage bins will be available for purchase at a reduced price – $90 for 64 gallon bins and $100 for 95 gallon bins. A 64 gallon bin can hold about three large garbage bags. Remember, if the lid cannot latch, the bin is not bear-resistant. Purchase a bin that is the right size for your needs.

    The cost-sharing program is offered to people that live on farms, ranches, acreages, and hamlets in Cardston County and the municipalities of Pincher Creek, Ranchland, and Willow Creek. If you are interested in learning more or purchasing a bin, please call one of the following program coordinators:

    If you live in Cardston County, call Jeff Bectell at 403 653 2219.
    If you live in the municipalities of Pincher Creek, Willow Creek, and Ranchland, call Tony Bruder at 403 627 5425.
    You can also email WBR at info@watertonbiosphere.com.
    If you live in the Crowsnest Pass, bear-resistant garbage programming is already available. Please contact Elizabeth with Crowsnest Conservation BearSmart at 403 563 0058 or Christy Pool, Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association President, ‎at 403 563 8723.

    This project was undertaken with the financial support of Government of Canada as part of the National Conservation Plan, and Alberta Environment and Parks.

    To view a PDF of the Bear-resistant Garbage Bin Program click here.

    For more information on securing attractants, please see the WBR Carnivores and Communities Technical Guides on  Electric Fencing and Securing Your Grain Storage.

  5. Revised Carnivore Compensation Program

    Even with the implementation of attractant management efforts as discussed above, large carnivores will still sometimes kill livestock. While some death loss is an acknowledged part of raising livestock, livestock losses to predators in southwestern Alberta represent a significant financial burden to producers.  The Alberta Wildlife Predator Compensation Program provides monetary compensation for cattle, sheep, bison, swine and goats injured or killed by wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, cougars and eagles.

    During the 2009 landowner survey, compensation for livestock losses to large carnivores was an issue highlighted by landowners and dissatisfaction with the current predator compensation program was identified. At that time a review of compensation programs was completed by the Miistakis Institute. The review highlighted that predator compensation programs are used world-wide as a way to reimburse private landowners for damages and losses caused by carnivores, while at the same time promoting carnivore conservation.  While healthy carnivore populations are increasingly valued by society as whole, it is local communities that face the burden of living with and being impacted by large carnivores.  Conflicts can affect the livelihood and safety of people living with large carnivores and leave them to carry a disproportionate portion of the cost associated with protecting a public good (i.e., carnivores). By reimbursing private landowners for damages and losses caused by large carnivores, compensation programs attempt to shift some of the burden from the livestock producer to the greater public.

    The Miistakis review also identified that dissatisfaction with the Alberta program seemed to stem from three major areas; the community felt that the burden of proof (to confirm that an animal was killed by a carnivore) was too high, compensation payments were too low, and the working relationship between Fish and Wildlife Officers and landowners was not strong.

    After further discussion with producers, the CWG initiated a project in 2012 to expand the review of compensation programs and to develop a proposal for a revised carnivore compensation program for southwestern Alberta. The project resulted in two reports Report 1: Summary of Carnivore Compensation Programs and Report 2: Proposed Amendments to the Alberta Wildlife Predator Compensation Program.

    The recommendations contained in Report 2 have come about through much discussion and consideration. If implemented, the recommendations will provide a much more fair and acceptable level of compensation to livestock producers who share the landscape with large carnivores. Recommendations include the application of a multiplier to the amount of compensation paid on confirmed livestock losses, additional compensation for probable kills, breeding livestock, guard animals, and purebred livestock; a review of the criteria employed for identifying probable kills; the development and delivery of a verification course for livestock producers; and an annual evaluation of any pilot and/or compensation program. In January of 2013, the CWG submitted the two reports to the Alberta Government along with a letter requesting the opportunity to discuss how the proposed changes can be implemented on a pilot basis within the municipalities of Ranchland, Willow Creek, Pincher Creek and Cardston.

    After more than two years, changes to the predator compensation program are still under review and dissatisfaction with the compensation program continues to be one of the greatest areas of frustration among affected livestock producers.

  6. Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project

    Grizzly Bear Rubbing - South Castle River Trail

    Grizzly Bear Rubbing – South Castle River Trail

    The  Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project (GBMP) was initiated in 2011, and is a joint effort between the University of Alberta, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Parks Canada, and Alberta Parks.  The overall goal of the program is to provide updated information of grizzly bear density and abundance within southwestern Alberta.  The project analyses DNA extracted from bear hair samples collected from bear rub objects, fence crossings, and other opportunistic sampling locations (e.g. grain bins, conflict locations, etc.). This non-invasive method provides cost savings over traditional monitoring methods (i.e. radiocollaring), is safe for personnel and wildlife, and provides a long-term collaborative monitoring framework for grizzly bears.

    The project began on public lands in 2011.  During 2012, WBRA CWG worked with landowners and GBMP Coordinator, Andrea Morehouse, to expand the project onto private lands throughout the remainder of Bear Management Area 6 (south of Highway 3). Sixty percent of BMA6 is privately owned and landowners have been highly engaged in identifying rub object locations and providing incidental collections of bear hair. The 2014 field season will mark the end of field work for the project. Annual updates can be found here.  Further results and information can be found on the GBMP website.

    It is hoped that this project will result in an accurate and locally supported population estimate on which to base management decisions.

  7. Black Bear Monitoring in Southwestern Alberta

    Photo by: Spencer Rettler

    Alberta is home to many dark and light coated black bears. Because there is hair colour variation in both grizzly and black bear species, it is not possible to differentiate between grizzly and black bear hair samples in the field. As a result, the Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project (GBMP) (see previous section) has relied on genetic analysis to distinguish the two bear species. Preliminary data from the GBMP has shown that roughly 40% of hairs sampled from rub trees from 2011-2013 are black bear. Until 2014, once a hair sample was identified as black bear, it was set aside by the genetics lab and not analysed.

    In collaboration with the GBMP, a Black Bear Monitoring  project has been initiated in southwestern Alberta by Alberta Environment and Parks, Parks Canada, Alberta Parks, The University of Alberta, and the Waterton Biosphere Reserve. The project will use hair samples already collected during the GBMP, whose study area extends north to Hwy 3, west to the B.C. border, south to the U.S. border, and east to the extent of grizzly bear range. DNA extracted from hair follicles will be used to identify if a hair sample is from a black or grizzly bear, if it is from a male or female, and to assign an individual genetic identity. Non-invasive genetic methods, such as these, are a cost-efficient alternative to trapping and collaring bears, and allow identification of individual black bears to generate a population and density estimate for the region.

    Anne Loosen burning hair off barb wired. Photo by: Christine Misseghers

    Anne Loosen burning hair off barbed wired. Photo by: Christine Misseghers

    The most recent black bear population estimate for southwestern Alberta is over 20 years old. In spite of a significant harvest rate and stable human population in southwestern Alberta, black bear complaints to Fish and Wildlife are increasing. From 1999-2013, black bear sightings have expanded eastward and have increased in frequency.  Yet, landowners that have historically seen a lot of black bears are now seeing only grizzly bears. Use of existing hair samples is both a cost savings and a unique opportunity to look at grizzly-black bear interactions, along with allowing researchers to get an updated black bear population estimate for the region.

    Anne Loosen will complete the study as part of a Master’s research project at the University of Alberta.

    Please contact us at info@watertonbiosphere.com if you would like additional information or are interested in supporting this project.

    You can read more about this project at http://wp.biology.ualberta.ca/blackbear/

    Black Bear Monitoring Project Support:

    • Alberta Environment and Parks
    • Parks Canada
    • Alberta Parks
    • Waterton Biosphere Reserve
    • Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership
    • Crowsnest Conservation Society
    • Alberta Conservation Association
    • Alberta Fish & Game Association
    • International Association for Bear Research and Management
    • Alberta Professional Outfitters Society
    • Safari Club International Northern Alberta Chapter
    • TD Friends of the Environment Foundation
    • Riversdale Resources
    • Southwest Alberta Sustainable Community Initiative

     

  8. Developing Monitoring Techniques for Wolves in Southwest Alberta

    A study was conducted from 2012 to 2014 to develop and test non-invasive monitoring techniques for wolves in southwestern Alberta.  The study was a cooperative research effort between The Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit (MCWRU) at the University of Montana and Alberta Environmental and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD).  The study area extended from Highway 1 south to the International border and was bordered to the east by Highways 6 and 22, with the addition of the Porcupine Hills. Led by Dave Ausband  at MCWRU, field surveys were conducted at predicted rendezvous sites in the summers of 2012, 2013 and 2014 including collection of genetic samples (i.e. scat) for DNA analysis.  Alberta big game hunters were also surveyed for wolf sightings after the 2012, 2013, and 2014 hunting seasons and wolf sightings were solicited from leaseholders, landowners, and trappers.

    Annual and a final report that outlines a framework for periodic wolf population monitoring in southwestern Alberta can be found here.

  9. Summary of Carnivore Conflicts in Southwestern Alberta

    In an effort to begin to understand the spatial and temporal patterns of carnivore conflicts in southwestern Alberta, the past thirteen years (1999-2011) of enforcement occurrence reports for grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and cougars were analyzed and summarized. This work was a collaborative effort between the Fish and Wildlife Division of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD), including Enforcement Field Services (now with Solicitor General), the Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project, and the WBR CWG.  Carnivore Conflicts in Southwestern Alberta  summarizes the number and types of reported conflicts for each species, maps all conflicts to identify areas on the landscape with the greatest number of conflicts historically, and maps conflicts by species/year to understand how conflict distribution has changed over time.

    This report provides a baseline framework and can be used, along with local knowledge, to focus deadstock pickup efforts and other conflict reduction projects.

    Annual reports summarizing large carnivore occurrence data for 2012, 20132014, and 2015  have also been prepared.

  10. Find out more about the Carnivores and Communities Program

    If you would like more information about the Carnivores and Communities program or the work of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Carnivore Working Group, please follow the links provided or contact us at info@watertonbiosphere.com.

    If you would like to discuss an attractant management project on your farm or ranch, please contact:  Jeff Bectell jbectell@watertonbiosphere.com or Tony Bruder tbruder@watertonbiosphere.com.

  11. Carnivores and Communities Program: Funders and Supporters

    The Waterton Biosphere Reserve and the WBR Carnivore Working Group would like to thank the many people and organizations who have supported the Carnivores and Communities program.  Thank you to the the landowners for their efforts to complete projects and make changes to their operations to reduce conflicts with large carnivores.  Thank you to the landowner groups, provincial and municipal governments and staff, non-government organizations, and other key individuals and partners that have provided critical support to community-based efforts.  And finally, we would also like to recognize those who have provided the funding to make this work possible.

    Funders:

    Alberta Ecotrust
    Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
    Alberta Innovates BioSolutions
    Bear Conflict Solutions
    Beauvais Cottage Association
    Canadian Agricultural Safety Association
    Environment Canada – Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk
    Farm Credit Canada
    Government of Canada, as part of the National Conservation Plan
    Nature Conservancy of Canada
    Oldman Watershed Council
    Riversdale Resources
    Samuel Hanen Society for Resource Conservation
    Shell Fuelling Change
    Shell Waterton
    Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative