Tips for gardening in bear country

Berries and vegetables are great to grow, but they can also attract some unwanted attention

With recent sunny skies and high temperatures in the Sea to Sky corridor, gardening season is upon us — and bear season.

When it comes to gardening, it’s crucial to “bear in mind” our wild neighbours when planting and gardening and help keep them just that — wild.

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Sylvia Dolson is the executive director of the local Get Bear Smart Society, a registered non-profit charity formed in 1995. The society’s top mission is to minimize the number of bears killed as a result of human-caused problems, and that includes managing bear attractants. The first rule of being Bear Smart is not to attract bears to areas frequented by humans — including your deck, yard or garden.

Dolson said a key factor when vegetable gardening is for people to assess their plants based on the sugar and protein content. “Avoiding plants and fruits with a heavy concentration of fructose or proteins is important; most people don’t really know what plants have high protein, but lists are readily available on our website (bearsmart.com – managing attractants).”

The website lists potatoes and root vegetables such as carrots and beets as bear attractants, and berries even more so. “Vegetables are not normally the key attractant, but fruit trees and berry bushes are highly attractive to bears. Bears love all types of berries, including strawberries and raspberries — these should be avoided or electric fenced. Fruit from trees should be picked before it ripens and falls to the ground,” she said, and vegetables should be picked as they ripen.

Clover and dandelion are “absolutely at the top of the (protein) list” and residents should be vigilant about weeding them out from lawns and grassy areas, she said. “Dandelion and clover are highly attractive to bears, as most residents know just from driving down the highway (when it was re-seeded with clover) and seeing bears on golf courses.”

She emphasizes that fish fertilizer or blood meal should never be used in any garden.

Electric fencing can be effectively used to deter bears from gardens and orchards. “We recommend that people use a portable electric fence,” Dolson said. “If they do not wish to share their garden with other animals that’s one way of keeping them out.”

When landscaping, plant non-fruit bearing shrubs and trees, including around entranceways or around children’s play areas.

Composting should be meticulously done. “You can use a bear-proof composter or just keep your composter very clean,” Dolson said. “Don’t compost meat, fish, oil, grease or any dairy products, use lime to reduce odour — you can do a lot of composting inside.”

Bear proof composters can be made or ordered online  — see list of resources below.

With barbecue season upon us, grease is the number one attractant. “Grease (from the grease tray or drip can) must be removed after and either cleaned out or taken inside to a bear-proof location.”

Bears have an incredibly strong sense of smell, Dolson said. “It’s seven times stronger than a bloodhound and a bloodhound’s is already hundreds of times stronger than ours. It’s ridiculously strong. They live in a world of smells, whereas we live in a sighted world.”

Visit bearsmart.com – managing attractants for more information. Available to download: Whistler’s bear food plant list and the Wildlife-Friendly Landscaping brochure (for both residents and professionals). Visit critterproofcomposting.com for information on bear-proof composters.

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