Ripened fruit on the ground may be a welcome sight to urban gatherers, but for BearSmart’s Bryan Peterson, it’s just another threat that adds to the risk of human-bear conflicts.
“Your choice in human-bear conflicts is: Deal with bears or deal with why bears are around,” Peterson said. “And that’s the route that we’ve chosen, which involves removing human foods that bring bears into communities.
“Fruit is one of the bigger ones.”
Peterson said unsecured household trash is the main reason for human and bear conflicts, but ripened fruit left on or under trees is another human food source that attracts bears that could largely be avoided.
Bears have great memories, he said, and can recall locations of easy food sources: i.e. open, unprotected fruit trees in people’s yards.
And while electric fencing has proved extremely effective in keeping bears out of most anything, including fruit trees, electric fencing is not allowed within city limits, per city code.
BearSmart a few years ago teamed with the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center, Colorado State University Extension and Healthy Community Food Systems to create an online bulletin board that connects residents desiring fruit with those having fruit available for harvest.
On Thursday, a group of 10 or so FLC students volunteered to gather apples from a home in north Durango. The effort is part of a weekly harvesting project, said the environmental center’s director, Rachel Landis.
“This is a local food source that doesn’t get harvested,” she said.
The pounds and pounds of apples collected Thursday will be pressed and made into juice next Wednesday, which will be available for purchase on campus. It will also be used to make apple ice cream, Landis said.
The “crop mobs” are just part of FLC’s environmental center’s push to ensure “local food security,” an initiative set in 2009 to shed light on the importance of local food sources in La Plata County, Landis said.
The volunteer groups also help local farmers and ranchers on an as-needed basis, and are constantly looking for partnerships.
“Fort Lewis College has really excited students,” said Landis. “And this is a way to educate the next round of consumers on the importance of local food sources.”
Thursday was also an opportunity to remind residents that as the fall colors set in, so do increased chances for bear interactions as they enter their “feeding frenzy” stage.
Though it’s difficult to draw conclusions from bear interaction data, the numbers point to a quieter year, mostly because it is a good natural food year. Last year, between July and August, there were 260 human-bear interactions compared to this year’s 50. Four bears have been euthanized to last year’s six.
Peterson pointed to a 2010 study by the University of Montana that found homes in northern Missoula, Montana, had a 60 percent chance of being visited by a bear. When apples were available, the odds increased by 269 percent.
He said five years ago, it was taboo to talk about gleaning fruit to avoid bear interactions in Durango. People loved seeing bears, he said, even in their yards.
“A lot of residents think apples and other fruits are a natural food source for bears, and it’s not. It’s like trash. It’s an attractant,” he said. “This program came out of a bear working group that meets twice a year. The goal is to get unused food to community members, and reduce the risk of bear interactions.”