Foundation Conservation Carpathia in partnership with the Argeș Regional Environmental Protection Agency organized a meeting with the main institutions involved in the management of bear conflicts in Argeș County, thus launching the consultations for the association in a ‘Bear Smart Community’ programme.
The initiative encourages cooperative efforts by communities to reduce human-bear conflicts and recognizes that the responsibility to manage human-bear conflicts lies within all parties. In order to be effective, the participation of authorities, municipalities and citizens is important.
The meeting was attended by representatives of the Argeș Regional Environmental Protection Agency, the Argeș County Commissioner of the Environmental Guard, the Argeș Emergency Situations Inspectorate and the Argeș County Gendarmerie Inspectorate.
The need for closer cooperation and identification of issues that attract bears and cause problems in the community occurs in the context that in the period 2018-2022, in the communities of Argeș County in the project area of the Foundation Conservation Carpathia, 359 conflicts with bears were recorded.
Poor waste management attracts bears
The garbage generated by people in communities, animal waste that is not disposed of or dumped outside the locality and household waste are the main sources of attraction for bears.
Other factors that cause local bear problems include abandoned orchards, the expansion of urban towns over natural areas frequented by bears, and the lack of interest in proactive management, including an understanding of the protected status of the bear, which does not allow the removal of any or all bears.
Communities with a high percentage of livestock farmers also face a shortage of skilled labour to guard domestic animals. It has often been observed that farmers do not take basic measures to protect their animals, as they roam free in the forest or remain loose at night without being enclosed or protected within pens.
National context on bear issues
- The brown bear (Ursus arctos) has been a protected species since 2016.
After this date, its hunting was done only based on special exemptions granted on the basis of a specific procedure (intervention quota, prevention quota). GEO 81, with subsequent amendments and additions, provides methods of intervention for the bear species in emergency situations, initially in urban areas and in rural areas (intervention team, procedures for repeated expulsion, relocation, elimination).
- Bears also suffer from the collateral consequences of stopping trophy hunting.
Artificial feeding of bears is no longer done on a dedicated basis but contextually, as it is mandatory to allocate food to other species according to wildlife management contracts, the decrease in artificial feeding of this species in natural habitats is significant.
In the context of climate change (with no hibernation for bears and less fruiting in tree species), intensive mushroom and berry harvesting, and lower populations of other ‘hunted’ species, the issue of permanent disturbance in forests with anthropogenic activities, pressure on the bear species and changes in its foraging behaviour is visible.
The need to act together
Strictly following the procedures for the expulsion, relocation and even removal of bears from communities, the unilateral provision of means of prevention without the proactive involvement of local communities is not effective in the long term because it does not even partially eliminate the causes of bear attacks and their presence.
A Bear Smart Community programme is a voluntary community-led initiative whereby communities can identify solutions that can lead to a reduction in bear conflicts.
Bear Smart Communities are not born, they are created. And, in almost every case, it is the commitment and hard work of residents that begin to transform their unsafe, bear-killing communities into examples of growing coexistence. The Bear Smart Community programme is working successfully in the United States and Canada as a best practice success story of cooperation between locals and authorities to prevent bear conflicts.
What a community should do:
- A voluntary committee to manage bear problems
The committee will be responsible for overseeing the process, delivery and implementation of the programme. These decisions must come from a community that owns the programme and, in turn, motivates community action. The committee should be made up of as many relevant community stakeholders as possible: local government representatives, concerned residents and business leaders, the local waste management company, government agencies responsible for wildlife management, environmental groups and NGOs.
The Bear Smart community program is based on meeting a short list of criteria to become Bear Smart.
The responsibility to manage human-bear conflicts is up to everyone and will require the participation of responsible authorities, municipal governments and local citizens in order to be successful.
Bear danger assessment
A comprehensive preliminary assessment of the danger posed by bears should:
- Identify sites, areas, trails, and practices that have historical, existing, and potential levels of human-bear conflict.
- Identify gaps in existing knowledge of bear use and human-bear conflict in the area and provide recommendations for further investigation and additional hazard assessment steps.
- Develop management recommendations to reduce existing and potential conflicts within the community.
Human-bear conflict management plan
It will include sections regarding which agencies and organizations will cooperate, who will pay for and be responsible for implementing which parts of the plan, and how to develop and implement an education program, an effective bear-resistant solid waste management system, and related ‘Bear Smart’ regulations.
Methods for monitoring the effectiveness of the plan, measuring success, and communicating results to the public are also important aspects of any human-bear conflict management plan.
- Review or draft Local Council Decisions
- Planning and decision-making documents to be consistent with the human-bear conflict management plan. Example: development plans, waste management plans, etc.
- Implement an effective education programme for all sectors of the community
The main objectives of the education programme should be the following:
- Develop a better public understanding of bear ecology and behaviour.
- Increase support from residents to protect the community from bears.
- Promote strategies for people in bear habitats to reduce the likelihood of human-bear conflicts.
- Recommend actions to take during a bear encounter.
- Encourage tolerance of the presence and natural behaviours of bears near communities.
- Develop and maintain an effective bear-resistant municipal solid waste management system
- Protecting a community’s waste infrastructure from bears requires effort and involves a multi-level, multi-stakeholder approach. To ensure the safety of residents, visitors, and wildlife, all public, residential, and commercial waste containers in the bear zone must be bear-resistant to the highest possible standard.
- To implement and enforce “Bear Smart” regulations that prohibit the provision of bear food as a result of intent, carelessness or irresponsible management of attractants
By-laws reflect the general principles and values of a community and are intended to evolve as community standards and norms change. Community regulations are regulated by law and serve as educational tools that help community members understand why a particular regulation, such as a wildlife attractant regulation, is necessary and what each community member’s role and responsibility is in managing wildlife attractants.
Efforts by law enforcement personnel usually focus primarily on trying to achieve voluntary compliance through educational efforts; it is preferable that violators voluntarily correct their own behaviours based on a better understanding of the law and its purpose. The existence of a comprehensive and fair regulation provides the necessary enforcement framework where education is not sufficient to achieve compliance.
Regulations are a necessary element of any human-wildlife relationship management plan aimed at prohibiting the provision of unnatural food for wildlife as a result of intent, negligence, or irresponsible management of wildlife attractants
Foundation Conservation Carpathia’s bear conflict prevention and intervention measures
Foundation Conservation Carpathia is already acting through a set of measures that are structured at three levels: prevention, intervention and compensation.
Prevention: we support farmers and local people in the project area with electric fences, we donate Carpathian Shepherd dogs to farmers, we have created a voluntary Conflict Management Committee.
Intervention: we act with rapid intervention teams in case of attacks or problems with bears. The teams chase away problematic bears, relocate them and, in extreme cases, remove them.
Compensation: The Foundation owns a farm where it raises sheep and cows, which it donates to farmers whose domestic animals have been killed by bears.