The small Metis community of Conklin Alberta made headlines around the continent a couple years ago when twelve black bears had to be shot at their local garbage dump. Outrage was expressed by many towards Sustainable Resources and the officers who had to do the cull. The officers can’t be blamed in this circumstance. When bears have been spoiled by humans, there is no rehabilitation and relocation for them. Black bears will travel hundreds of kilometers to find new human created sources of food once spoiled and they will be increasingly dangerous and irritable once that trip is completed.
The bottom line is that a ready food source was made available to the bears for years due to irresponsible waste management in an area highly populated with bears. To be honest, I don’t know who’s responsibility the garbage dump is but the past (and current) management of the facility is completely unacceptable and will be leading to more bear shootings soon. The municipality is Wood Buffalo and the village is Conklin. I imagine that among those two entities one is responsible for waste management.
Below is a picture of black bears eating at the Conklin dump a couple years ago. Following that picture are pictures that I took of the “improved” Conklin garbage facility a few days ago.
Clearly international embarrassment has not been enough of a motivator for this community to solve it’s garbage problem.
Bears at Conklin dump pre-2009
Open unprotected bins at Conklin dump January 2012
Below are pictures of the garbage I found that animals had dragged from the dumpsters into the nearby trees.
The bush surrounding the dump area is nothing short of disgusting. Garbage is strewn for acres as entire bags have clearly been pulled from the open dumpsters and dragged into the trees by animals for consumption. Ravens then spread the smaller pieces even wider.
There indeed is no longer an open landfill at the Conklin dump. They have put up a partial fence and a warning sign about bears along with the open, unsupervised bins packed with domestic waste.
The sign goes into detail on the small print about how people should not approach or feed bears. The fence stretches about 30 meters to either side of the gate and stops. It is meant to keep people out of the dump area after hours. The fence is not meant as any form of animal deterrent. There really has been no deterrent measures put in place at the dump.
The Conklin dump is providing a virtual buffet for animals and it is doubtless that more animals will become spoiled and will die as a result. Foxes, coyotes and wolves are being harmed by this mess too.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in Banff Alberta. I remember well as a kid in the late seventies and early eighties tourists being directed to hit certain parts of town on garbage day to see black bears and people were directed to the dump out by Lake Minnewanka to see grizzly bears. Part of the summer routine was often to clean up the garbage out back before school as the coyotes and bears had gotten into it.
Banff got it’s wakeup call in the early 80s when a grizzly terrorized the town for weeks with five people mauled and one killed in a series of attacks before the bear was located and destroyed. I hated that period as a kid as we loved playing in the bush but understandably our parents kept us all well within the townsite until the bear had been killed.
After that tragic happening, Banff transformed quickly into a town that did not feed the bears. Home collection of garbage ended as bear proof bins were placed around town. Open landfills ended with transfer stations where domestic garbage was taken to a bear proofed site for disposal.
If a town of 5000 (with 15,000 tourists) in the mountains can responsibly manage their garbage in the 1980s, why the hell can’t an oil-rich community of a few hundred do the same in 2012??
It only takes a short trip through google to see how many communities in areas with bears have learned to keep bears from their dumps in cost effective ways. There are many solutions out there if a community wants to seek them. Conklin apparently is not interested in seeking a solution unfortunately.
Now where is the outcry from our environmental crusaders on this? Well they are busy yelping at the big bad oil industry whether justifiably or not.
I am currently in a camp in the Conklin area. The energy industry is very careful to mitigate wildlife impact in every possible way while working. Garbage containment is actually one of our easiest areas to deal with. Our industry rarely gets credit for it’s responsible and ethical environmental practices unfortunately.
Throughout our camp we have bear proof garbage cans for spot disposal of small amounts of garbage. These are the exact same bins that are present in Banff.
Larger volumes of waste go to a compactor to be trucked out to a proper landfill.
There are about 750 people in my camp. There is not so much as a french fry left out for wildlife to get at. Is it too much to ask a town of a few hundred to do the same?
Where is the outcry on towns and their shoddy waste practices? It is lost among those loudly and wrongly targeting the oilfield. Rest assured if we (oilfield) behaved like the town of Conklin in our practices, our operation would be quickly shut down and we would be heavily fined.
I strongly suggest that people concerned about wild animal welfare contact provincial authorities and demand that they crack down on towns with irresponsible waste practices. Put down your signs protesting the oilsands for a minute and try to make some realistic and worthwhile change come about. We sure heard loudly from groups when some ducks died.
Lets hope my next series of pictures does not involve shots of dead black bears.