Nicole Hergert and her daughter Eliana picking plums on the inaugural pick of the Castlegar Harvest Pickers.

Local group aims to reduce bear conflicts through harvest rescue

Castlegar Harvest Pickers is looking for volunteers to pick and trees that need to be picked.

It’s that time of year again — as the fruit starts ripening, the bears start gorging and human-bear conflicts rise. Castlegar Harvest Pickers are hoping to reduce the number of conflicts this year through their harvest rescue program. The program is an initiative of the Kootenay Food Strategy Society, the same group that operates the community garden near Millennium Park.

According to Jenny Wallace, the WildSafeBC coordinator for Castlegar, conflict reports for the month of August show that there have been no garbage related bear conflicts in Castlegar this month. “That is unheard of for this time of year — looks like the bear-resistant garbage cans are making a difference,” she said. “That said, the bears are definitely back in town, with conflict reports picking up in the last two weeks. These reports are almost all domestic fruit tree and berry related.”

Wallace explained why unpicked fruit is such a problem: “While a bear eating apples may not seem as bad as a bear with a garbage bag, domestic fruit is a major cause of human-bear conflict every year. If a bear finds fruit on your property, they begin to associate human-settled areas with food. This food conditioning can quickly escalate to more serious conflict as the bear continues its search for food in your neighbourhood.”

Wallace also emphasized the responsibilities that come with keeping fruit trees in bear country. “This attractant must be managed carefully to avoid unnecessary wildlife conflicts,” she said. “Keeping the ground beneath fruit trees free of windfalls and picking all fruit as it ripens will ensure bears and other wildlife are not tempted into your yard. For some properties, a properly installed and maintained electric fence can also be a great tool for keeping bears away from backyard produce.”

Picks, starting as early as this week, are being organized. Organizers hope to plan weekly picks of anything from plums, grapes and blackberries to pears and apples. The fruit that is picked will be divided — one third goes to the home owner, one third to the pickers and the remaining third will go to the community through things like the food bank, free canning workshops or community meals.

Bear sightings in town can be reported to WildSafeBC at 250-365-8971 and aggressive bears should be reported to the Conservation Officer Service RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.

“Right now we are completely volunteer driven, we have no formal funding,” said organizer Nicole Hergert. “We are just going to try and get that fruit picked and really respond to some of the concerns for bears, so our focus is really the crops that are attracting bears this year… and to get that fruit out into the community.”

If you have a tree you would like picked, or would like to volunteer to be a picker, send an email to castlegarharvestpickers@gmail.com. You can even contact them now to be added to the database of trees, such as cherry, that have already been picked this year, but will need to be picked next year.

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