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 agricultural attractants such as livestock, grain, and other animal feed. While all four large carnivore species are 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 (Carnivores and Communities Survey – Miistakis 2009). When conflicts occur between humans and large carnivores, the impacts on landowners are diverse and can include depredation of 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 because 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 (AEP) 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, the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association (WBRA) 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 WBR’s CACP. WBR’s CWG is composed primarily of livestock producers who represent the communities in the municipalities of Ranchland, Willow Creek, Pincher Creek and Cardston, and also includes representatives from municipal government, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), AEP, and Alberta Fish and Wildlife Officers. The terms of reference for WBR’s CWG can be found here. The work of WBR’s 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. To help decrease conflicts with large carnivores, WBR’s Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP) provides support to activities designed to remove or reduce carnivore attractants. Current attractant management projects outlined below include removing dead livestock from the landscape, making grain and feed storage facilities more secure, and installing electric fencing to prevent carnivores from accessing 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. A map (2019) showing 75 attractant management projects completed between 2009 and 2019 can be found here.
The CACP 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. Although the use of on-farm carcass dumps or “bone-yards” is a legal disposal option under the Alberta Animal Health Act, deadstock can be an attractant to bears, cougars, and wolves – particularly during the spring calving season.
To eliminate this attractant, the WBR’s Deadstock Removal Program was designed to completely remove the livestock carcasses from the landscape. Building on the efforts of local landowner groups, the program has grown to include free deadstock pickup for producers on over 550,000 hectares (1.36 million acres) in the municipalities of Cardston, Pincher Creek, Ranchland, and Willow Creek. Since the program began in 2009, approximately 4,900 carcasses have been removed from the landscape (2019).
The deadstock program operates in each of the four municipalities with funds from CACP supporters ensuring that there is no cost to producers for carcass pickup within the deadstock pickup zone. The municipalities help with bin management, administration of the program, and the reimbursement of landowners and the rendering company. The municipalities help with bin management, administration of the program, and the reimbursement of landowners and the rendering company. In Pincher Creek and Cardston there are 11 bear-proof bins, where producers can drop off their deadstock where practical. On-farm pickup is also available if the carcass is not easily transported to a bin. In Ranchland and Willow Creek, bins are not available and all deadstock is picked up on-farm.
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. Since 2003, the Blackfoot Challenge has been collecting livestock carcasses for composting in a facility managed by Montana Department of Transportation. The documentary Living with Carnivores: Boneyards, Bears and Wolves shares their story. In 2012, Cardston County partnered with Alberta Environment and Parks and Canadian Agricultural Partnership (formerly Growing Forward) to build a carcass composting facility; the first municipal deadstock composting facility in Canada.
From late January 2013 to April 30, 2014, a county employee picked up 851 livestock carcasses from deadstock bins and farms in Cardston County for composting at the facility. The livestock included animals like sheep and goats that are not accepted by rendering companies. Operational costs for pickup and composting were paid through the WBR’s Deadstock Removal Program.
As a pilot project, the municipal composting program had to overcome several administrative and regulatory issues. In April 2014, Cardston County felt it was best to suspend the program until these issues were resolved. While the issues which led to suspension of the program were resolved, the county council made the decision not to re-open it. In the absence of a rendering company, the WBRA continues to see deadstock composting as a safe, efficient and cost effective means of handling livestock mortalities to prevent conflict with large carnivores.
Feed Storage Security and Electric Fencing:
Grizzly bears and black bears are omnivores and will use a wide variety of food sources. In an agricultural landscape, this can include honey producing hives, grain, silage, 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 to the food source. 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 tool to prevent carnivores from accessing attractants. 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 bold and dangerous around people. Bears can be drawn into a yard by a variety of attractants including garbage, pet food, fruit trees, gardens, compost, livestock, or grain.
In southwestern Alberta, approximately 80% of all black bear incidents reported to the Government of Alberta from 1999 through 2015 were related to attractants. Of these incidents, 41% were related to garbage. Similarly, most grizzly bear incidents are related to some sort of attractant, predominantly grain and deadstock. Once a bear becomes conditioned to human food, that bear has an increased chance of being relocated or killed. Additionally, a bear frequenting yard sites in search of food represents an increased safety risk for people.
To help mitigate these incidents, Waterton Biosphere Reserve (WBR) ran a bear-resistant garbage bin program from 2015 to 2020. The program offered bear-resistant garbage bins for sale at a subsidized price to people living on farms, ranches, acreages, and hamlets in the municipalities of Cardston, Pincher Creek, Ranchland, and Willow Creek. The Toter bear-resistant bins were suitable for both garbage and small feed storage. They were double walled poly with a steel-reinforced rim and a self-latching mechanism that bears cannot open. The bins were certified as bear-resistant by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee following testing by captive grizzly bears at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery center in Montana. View video of this testing below.
All bins we acquired for this program have now been distributed in the community. If you are still interested in purchasing a bin you can contact Jeff Bectell, Carnivores and Communities Program Coordinator email@example.com, with your inquiry. If there is sufficient interest in pre-purchasing bins, we will explore the possibility of doing a bulk order of bins at a subsidized cost.
If you live in Crowsnest Pass, bear-resistant garbage programming is also available. Please contact Christy Pool, Crowsnest Pass BearSmart Association President, at 403-563-8723.
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 that a Fish and Wildlife Officer has confirmed as having been injured or killed by a wolf, grizzly bear, black bear, cougar or eagle.
Compensation programs are used around the world as a tool to help offset the economic loss associated with carnivore depredation of livestock, and to increase tolerance for large carnivores in rural communities. The cost of sharing the landscape with large carnivores typically falls disproportionately on rural communities, and compensation programs are one way of helping to redistribute those costs across the larger society. While compensation programs do help cover some of the costs associated with livestock depredation, there are numerous other costs associated with sharing the landscape with large carnivores that are not compensated including increased rancher time, reduced weight gain in livestock, and missing animals.
Landowner surveys in southwestern Alberta have identified producer dissatisfaction with the Alberta compensation program (Miistakis 2011, Lee et al., 2017, Morehouse et al., 2020). The dissatisfaction stems from three main areas:
The WBR CWG initiated a project in 2012 to review compensation programs worldwide and develop a proposal for a revised carnivore compensation program for southwestern Alberta. The project, which was completed in collaboration with Simon Fraser University, 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 were a result of much discussion and consideration. If implemented, the recommendations will address the main concerns raised by the community about the existing compensation program and provide a more satisfactory level of compensation to livestock producers. The proposed 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.
WBR has been working since 2013 to implement the proposed compensation program changes on a pilot basis within the municipalities of Cardston, Ranchland, Willow Creek, and Pincher Creek. However, despite promising discussions with several provincial staff that are involved in the administration of the program, there have been no changes to date regarding the predator compensation program. The issue of fair compensation continues to be one of the greatest areas of frustration among affected livestock producers.
Aside from conflicts with agriculture such as livestock depredation and damage to grain, grizzly bears also represent a safety concern for rural communities. Sharing the landscape with bears means that there is potential for encounters between bears and people, and it is important to understand how to act in such situations. To help address this issue, WBR worked with the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, Alberta Bear Smart, Alberta Environment and Parks, Bear Conflict Solutions, Southern Alberta Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Parks Canada, and Margo Supplies to develop and deliver bear safety workshops.
During these workshops, ranch families learn how to minimize attractants around their ranch and yard, how to avoid bear encounters, what to do when they encounter a bear, how to correctly identify dangerous bear behavior, and how to respond appropriately. Participants also receive hands-on practice using (inert) bear spray and each farm family is given a can of (live) bear spray to take home.
WBR first delivered these workshops in 2014 and has held workshops each subsequent year. To date, WBR has hosted 8 workshops reaching over 335 people (2019). The community response to these workshops has been extremely positive. Check out our news page for information on upcoming bear safety workshops.
Carnivores and Communities: A Case Study of Human-Carnivore Conflict Mitigation in Southwestern Alberta
In 2018, the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association used an online survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the CACP directly from the program participants’ perspectives and experiences. The survey was organized into the following sections: demographics, general awareness and motivation to participate, safety risks and sense of security associated with large carnivores, assessment of attractant management and deadstock removal programming, and communications and future direction.
We evaluated the CACP’s bear safety workshops, deadstock removal program, and attractant management projects by collecting survey data on participants’ perspectives of the CACP’s effectiveness relative to reducing economic costs and human safety risks and completing an analysis of carnivore conflict data.
The results of our collaborative research clearly show that the CACP is having a positive impact and making progress towards reducing conflicts between people and large carnivores. We believe the CACP’s work provides a successful example of a community-based program that helps people and large carnivores better coexist on the landscape.
The full story including details on methods and results can be found in the published paper here.
A condensed version of the project results is available here.
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. Fieldwork was completed from 2011 – 2014, and the WBRA 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 are 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) 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 Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association. 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. Despite 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.
From 2012 through 2014 researchers from the University of Montana completed a project with the goal of developing and testing 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 Environment and Parks. The study area extended from Highway 1 south to the border with the United States and was bordered to the east by Highways 6 and 22, with the addition of the Porcupine Hills. The project was led by Dave Ausband as part of his Ph.D. research 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. Dr. Ausband currently works for Idaho Fish and Game, and information regarding his latest research can be found here.
In an effort to begin to understand the spatial and temporal patterns of carnivore conflicts in southwestern Alberta, the Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project in collaboration with Alberta Environment and Parks, Solicitor General, and the University of Alberta, WBRA analyzed occurrence reports for grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and cougars from 1999 – 2011. When someone in Alberta has an issue regarding large carnivores, he/she can report it to their local Fish and Wildlife Office. The details of that event are recorded as a text summary. GBMP personnel read through and extracted the pertinent information from each record for this 13-year period. These data help identify hotspots of large carnivore conflicts, summarize conflict patterns for the different species, and can be used to focus deadstock pickup and other conflict mitigation efforts.
The community has found this information valuable and the WBR CWG has continued to support the summary of occurrence records in subsequent years.
The initial 13-year report along with the 2012 – 2017 updates can be found here. The review of occurrence records from 1999 through 2014 has also been published in a peer-reviewed journal and the paper can be accessed 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.
If you would like to discuss an attractant management project on your property, please contact: Jeff Bectell email@example.com.
For more information about large carnivores in southwestern Alberta, please contact Andrea Morehouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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 and Supporters: