Despite an electrified fence being built earlier this year, there are still bears in the Hay River landfill site.
“Well, there’s two for sure,” said Albert Bourque, regional environmental co-ordinator with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR). “One actually was trapped in there when they constructed the fence in early June.”
The other bear walked in through the front gate off Highway 5 in early September. The gate is electrified, but is open during business hours.
Bourque said the chances of a bear walking in through the entrance are very small, but it appears it was quiet at that time and there was very little traffic on Highway 5.
“There hadn’t been much activity at the landfill for a couple of hours and he snuck his way in,” the ENR official said, adding that seems to indicate it was a mature bear with experience being around people.
Plans are to place an electrified mat across the entrance so no other bears will be able to walk into the landfill.
Bourque said once bears are in a landfill, they’re almost impossible to trap.
“There’s no incentive for them to go into a trap and investigate that little odour when they got a huge mountain of food that they can eat from,” he explained, adding ENR had a trap at the landfill pretty much all summer.
Plus, he said, with a perimeter of almost two-and-a-half kilometres at the landfill and a lot of forested area inside, it also becomes very hard to locate a bear.
“When the snow is on the ground, we’re better able to track them,” he said. “We could capture them then and then determine what to do with them.”
Bourque said the bears have not caused any problems and he doesn’t think they pose a danger.
“The risk that these animals present to the public is really low given that there’s so much area for them to take refuge in,” he said.
Plus, their sleeping patterns keep them away from people.
“The bears become strictly nocturnal,” Bourque explained. “So over the summer we’d have a call once a week or every 10 days from the attendants when they’re closing up, saying, ‘OK, the bear’s going onto the pile.'”
The landfill is closed from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m., he pointed out. “The bear has got free reign then and there really shouldn’t be anybody in there.”
The bears are very rarely seen during the day, he said, noting they have been spotted a couple of times along the fence because there’s only a few places where they can get water.
Bourque said one of the bears was seen by contractors who were in the landfill afterhours to crush scrap metal.
The contractors’ description of the animal attests to how much food it is eating.
“They said he looks like a basketball with legs,” said Bourque.
The ENR official has been keeping track of the situation because the Town of Hay River built the electrified fence on the recommendation of the department.
“It’s all part of being environmentally responsible because the landfill is not a healthy environment for any kind of wildlife, really,” said Bourque, noting an unfenced landfill sustains a bear population higher than the local environment cannot sustain.
A fence allows the bear population to return to a natural level, meaning fewer of the animals around a community.
— Paul Bickford