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Fruit tree legal opinion sought by Banff council

BANFF – The Town Banff plans to get a legal opinion on whether it has authority to force residents to remove existing fruit trees that may draw bears to their properties in search of an easy meal.
With fall approaching, bears are understandably attracted to fruit trees like these in a Canmore yard. Often, though, a fed bear means a dead bear.
The Town of Banff plans to obtain a legal opinion on whether or not it could force homeowners with existing fruit bearing trees, considered a wildlife attractant, to remove them.

BANFF – The Town Banff plans to get a legal opinion on whether it has authority to force residents to remove existing fruit trees that may draw bears to their properties in search of an easy meal.

The legal advice, which will cost $2,500 and was tentatively approved in the 2019 operating budget, will also consider if residents can be made to address existing places for wildlife to hide on their properties, such as beneath unenclosed decks or porches.

Based on recommendation from the Bow Valley human-wildlife taskforce to keep wild animals from entering the townsite, municipal officials say a complete ban, including removal of all existing attractants, may be ultimately needed.

They say they have authority under the Municipal Government Act to ban future planting of fruit trees and make residents pick, or dispose of fruit for wildlife safety reasons, but forcing existing trees to be cut down is not as clear in municipal law.

Tony Clark, Banff’s bylaw services supervisor, said there’s greater legal ability to deal with a fruit tree if a bear is repeatedly in someone’s yard, creating a danger to people.

“There’s a distinction. One is just saying ‘hey, I see you have that tree and you have to cut it down,’ versus ‘hey, you’ve had three bears in your yard over the past three months and you have to cut your tree down,’ ” said Clark.

The human-wildlife coexistence taskforce, which released 28 recommendations earlier this year to reduce the number and severity of encounters between people and residents, identified trees laden with fruit as a significant wildlife attractant.

Bears that learn there is food in town will come back again-and-again, putting both bears and residents in harm’s way. Bears can become bold and aggressive, which has led to relocation and the death of bears, in order to protect public safety.

Before being shot and killed by a hunter in B.C in in 2017, it was not uncommon for female grizzly bear No.148 to feast on crabapple trees in yards on the periphery of the townsite.

The task force also recommended removal or management of potential places where wildlife can potentially take cover and hide, such as beneath unenclosed decks or porches.

Earlier this year, a coyote denned beneath the deck of a house on Glen Avenue and was attacking dogs, and ended up biting one in a defensive act to protect her nearby pups.

In January 2016, a young female cougar on the brink of starving to death hunkered down under a porch of a house in the Middle Springs neighbourhood for several days before being discovered.

Mayor Karen Sorensen, who was co-chair of the Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence committee, said she was interested in getting a legal opinion on this issue.

“We don’t need to be debating whether we agree with, or disagree with fruit trees, or hiding cover,” she said. “This is just about getting a legal opinion and what we can or can’t do.”

Councillor Grant Canning did support the call for getting legal advice, but flagged some concerns.

“I think the question is whether or not we believe we should even look at retroactively going in and taking things out and that’s a different discussion,” he said.

“If you don’t believe that it’s the Town’s responsibility and role to go to the past and take things out, then you might not want a legal opinion.”

Historically, the Town of Banff has taken a fairly permissive approach to the issue of fruit trees, although a voluntary fruit tree removal incentive program saw 28 trees removed in 2015 and 2016 from 21 different properties.