Fort Simpson resident concerned over bear sightings

An electric fence installed around the village's dump might have driven bears into town, resident says

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A newly installed electric fence around the Fort Simpson dump has driven hungry bears into town, according to resident Merle Snider.

Last year, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board advised the village to prevent animals and birds from accessing its dump. As a condition of its water licence, Council recently opted to install an electric fence around the area.

That prompted Snider to voice her concerns as the sole delegation at a July 8 council meeting. She was worried bear sightings around town after the fence installation were a safety risk for her daughter, and the other children in the village. The animals appeared to be cropping up more frequently; her parents even saw one scratching its back on a nearby tree.

“It just made me upset as a community member. I have a daughter that’s 11 years old that’s very, very active,” she told News/North, worried her daughter may encounter one of the animals.

Residents should be concerned about the bear sightings, says Merle Snider. NNSL File Photo

“What is it going to take? Someone getting hurt? That’s my kid, that’s your grandkids that are running around town,” she recalled telling council, adding that the money spent on the fence could have been invested elsewhere.

Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Welley said bears are often spotted around town in the fall, foraging for berries near the back of the island Fort Simpson sits on. Sightings vary from year to year, he said, and can depend on the scarcity of food in the bush.

The responsibility of managing the bears fell on ENR, not the village, he told News/North.

He hopes it’s not true the fence drove bears habituated to the dump into town, but promised to monitor the situation. However, the electric fence had no alternative. “A bear will rip a fence apart,” he said.

“All we can do is pass those concerns along to ENR and hope they put out more bear traps, or just do more patrols,” he said.

ENR spokesperson Meagan Wohlberg told News/North that “best practice does recommend fencing or other control measures to deter wildlife from landfills for the safety of animals, public and staff. Installing and maintaining fences, including electric fences, will prevent access to solid waste facilities for animals that are not habituated to eating waste.”

She said there’s often an adjustment period, where wildlife accustomed to “food rewards” in landfills will attempt to pass fences or find new sources nearby, which may include communities like Fort Simpson.

To manage these bears, ENR has set traps around town, and patrolled the area. So far, the traps caught two bears, which were relocated, and ENR officers put another two down, she said.

The village, nestled in the boreal forest, is also adjacent to wildlife corridors that make bear encounters “inevitable,” Wolhberg said.

In the meantime, Merle Snider encourages her daughter to steer clear of back roads where bears have been spotted. She’d rather her stay on a main street where she can duck into a building for safety.

“People don’t all walk around here with bear spray, or bear bangers,” she said. “We should be able to walk freely in our own community without having to keep an eye out for a bear.”

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Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development and English literature while working as the Editor in Chief of the school's student newspaper. Out of the office, you can find Nick hiking, scouring the library or planning his next trip. If you have a tip or a story idea, he can be contacted at (867) 766-8261 and editorial@nnsl.com.