BANFF – Residents are being asked to consider putting out plastic pumpkins this Halloween to prevent enticing hungry wildlife into the national park townsite.
Those wanting to carve real jack-o-lanterns for the Oct. 31 celebration are encouraged to display them from an inside window, but short of that, Parks Canada officials say there are many fake pumpkin options.
“Nowadays, you can get these electric ones and they look so much like a real pumpkin,” said Blair Fyten, a human-wildlife coexistence specialist with Banff National Park.
“You can still have it lit up with a little bulb inside and you plug them into a wall outlet – and it’s still inviting for the kids.”
The danger of wildlife attractants was a major issue to come out of the 2018 Bow Valley human-wildlife conflict task force, which came up with 28 recommendations to reduce the probability and severity of wildlife encounters.
The report concluded that preventing food conditioning by securing all animal attractants and preventing the direct or indirect feeding of wildlife was one of the most effective mitigations for reducing human-wildlife occurrences.
Removing real pumpkins is an easy issue to tackle.
Fyten reminds residents that putting a pumpkin on a balcony or railing is no deterrent for bears.
“People think wildlife can’t get it there, but black bears are very good climbers and it’s nothing for them to climb up a deck railing or a post and access that food,” he said.
In previous years, reports of deer feeding on pumpkins have been worrying to Parks Canada because ungulates can draw carnivores like cougars and wolves into town.
“We’ve had sightings of deer eating pumpkins when people have left them out on their front steps, and by having deer access these unnatural foods, it can help keep them in town,” Fyten said. “We have cougars and/or wolves who come in looking for these deer or elk.”
Unlike the communities of Canmore and Field, there have been no reports of bears entering the Banff townsite in search of food like crabapples and berries from mountain ash trees so far this fall.
“It’s kind of a rare sighting of a bear on the landscape right now, so we’ve been very fortunate,” Fyten said.
“That doesn’t mean that they’re not here. The berry crop – or shepherdia crop – was very poor this year so they are looking for other food sources.”
Banff has gone to great efforts in recent years to get rid of many fruit trees, though some still exist.
Ornamental crabapple and chokecherry trees that are laden with ripe fruit still present a powerful seasonal attractant to foraging bears during the fall months. As a result, bears have been food-conditioned to this available fruit over the years.
Fyten said said there are still remaining fruit trees in town, but more in the interior of the townsite rather than the periphery.
“That doesn’t mean that a bear can’t find them,” he said.
“We still encourage people to take down those fruit trees and replace them, and if you don’t want to do that, at least pick crabapples or berries so they’re not accessible to bears.”
The plight of bear No. 148, a famous female grizzly bear that spent most of her time in Banff National Park, led to heightened awareness throughout the Bow Valley about keeping wildlife wild.
After several encounters with people in Canmore, she was relocated to a remote area of Alberta near the Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park in July 2017 and shot dead by a trophy hunter in B.C. within weeks.
After Halloween, pumpkins can be disposed of in the Town of Banff’s organic food waste bins.
Any wildlife sightings in the Banff townsite can be reported to 403-762-1470.