Waterton Biosphere Reserve’s Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP) was initiated in 2009 in response to increasing conflicts between large carnivores and people in southwestern Alberta. In this unique corner of the province, 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.
Southwestern Alberta residents have expressed concern about growing carnivore populations, the increasing frequency of conflicts with large carnivores, and the impacts of large carnivores on local livelihoods and community safety. 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.
Despite such conflicts, a majority of residents surveyed in 2009 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 Parks began in 2008 to undertake projects to reduce conflicts by managing carnivore attractants across southwestern Alberta. More information about these early community efforts can be found in Large Carnivore Attractant Management Projects in Southwestern Alberta 2008-2012.
WBR’s Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP) builds on the previous community initiatives. It began in 2009 with a landowner survey addressing large carnivore issues (Carnivores and Communities Survey – Miistakis 2011 ) and provided financial support in 2009 and 2010 to the Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership, Chief Mountain Land Owners Information Network and Nature Conservancy of Canada for deadstock pickup and attractant management projects in the municipalities of Pincher Creek and Cardston.
In the fall of 2011, Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) (then Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development) 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. With the signing of the 2011-2014 MOU, the CACP expanded to include the Municipal District (MD) of Ranchland and the western portion of the MD of Willow Creek. The CACP now works directly with landowners and other partners in all four municipalities 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.
AEP has continued to provide funding to the CACP with annual grants. This provincial funding has also been used to leverage support from other funders including Environment Canada, Alberta Innovates BioSolutions, Alberta Ecotrust, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Shell Fuelling Change, Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, and others (see Funders and Supporters below).
WBR Carnivore Working Group (CWG)
One of the other requirements of the 2011-2014 MOU was that a community-based, landowner-driven working group be established. Hence, Waterton Biosphere Reserve’s Carnivore Working Group (CWG) was established in the fall of 2011 as a committee of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association (WBRA). While originally established to meet the requirements of the 2011-2014 MOU, the CWG has since been maintained as a valuable community-based committee providing direction and guidance to the WBR’s Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP). The WBR CWG is composed primarily of livestock producers who represent the communities in the municipalities of Ranchland, Willow Creek, Pincher Creek and Cardston County, and also includes representation from the four municipal governments, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), AEP, and Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officers. The terms of reference for the WBR CWG can be found here. The work of the WBR CWG is coordinated by Jeff Bectell, local rancher and a current Director of the WBRA.
Carnivores and Communities Program Vision
The following vision was recommended by the CWG on December 13, 2011 and approved by the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association on January 3, 2012. It serves as the vision not only for the Carnivore Working Group, but also for the larger WBR Carnivores and Communities Program.
The purpose of this vision is not to lay out the specifics of how issues with large carnivores are to be solved, but to provide a guiding statement that reminds people what the desired outcome is. The ideal outcome may not ever be fully achieved, but the vision statement provides something against which to measure our plans and results; it can keep us from drifting away from the mandate of the Carnivore Working Group (CWG) and the Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP). Ideally, we would like to see the following outcomes:
Carnivores and Communities Program Goals
Annual reports for the AESRD/AEP grants can be found here.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 email@example.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.
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 five 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.
The Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project (GBMP) was a joint effort between the University of Alberta, Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta Parks, and Parks Canada. Grizzly bears have been listed as a Threatened species in Alberta since 2010, and the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan recommends updating population estimates in each bear management area every 5 years. The project began in 2011 with the goal of providing updated information on grizzly bear density and abundance in southwestern Alberta’s grizzly bear management area (BMA) 6. A team of researchers led by Andrea Morehouse collected bear hair samples non-invasively from bear rub objects, fence crossings, and other opportunistic sampling locations (e.g. grain bins, conflict locations, Fish and Wildlife trapped bears). Non-invasive genetic methods provide a safe and cost-effective method of estimating population density. DNA was extracted from the hair to determine species (grizzly bear vs. black bear), sex, and individual identity. Field work was completed from 2011 – 2014, and the WBR helped facilitate communication with private landowners, and hosted numerous public meetings where updates and results were shared.
Using spatially explicit population models, Dr. Morehouse estimated both the number of grizzly bears considered BMA 6 resident grizzly bears (approximately 67 bears) and the larger number of bears that use BMA 6 over the course of the year (approximately 172 bears). Grizzly bears in southwestern Alberta are a small part of a much larger international population that includes bears in British Columbia and Montana. There over 1,000 grizzly bears in the larger, international Rocky Mountain subpopulation.
Publications resulting from the GBMP can be found here.
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. Consequently, the Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project (GBMP) (see previous section) used genetic markers to differentiate between species and found that approximately 40% of the hair samples collected by the GBMP were from black bears.
Beginning in 2014, in collaboration with the GBMP, a Black Bear Monitoring project was initiated in southwestern Alberta. Like the GBMP, the black bear project was a collaboration between Alberta Environment and Parks, Parks Canada, Alberta Parks, the University of Alberta, and the Waterton Biosphere Reserve. The project analyzed hair samples collected during the 2013 and 2014 field seasons. The sex and individual identity of each black bear were determined through the extraction of DNA from the hair follicle.
The black bear monitoring project provides an exciting opportunity for the first empirical black bear population estimate in southwestern Alberta. The previous population estimate for southwestern Alberta was based largely on expert opinion and 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, as well as provide the first data-driven black bear population estimate for southwestern Alberta.
Anne Loosen completed this project as part of her M.Sc. degree at the University of Alberta . Results of the Black Bear Monitoring Project can be found here.
You can read more about this project at http://wp.biology.ualberta.ca/blackbear/
Black Bear Monitoring Project Support:
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.
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 to 2016 can be found here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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
Samuel Hanen Society for Resource Conservation
Shell Fuelling Change
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative