A plan to put up electric fencing around the Inuvik landfill to keep out dangerous scavengers is going forward with money from Ottawa, but an outgoing town councillor is cautioning the town to bear a few details in mind.
Coun. Steve Baryluk, who works as a bear biologist by day, noted the $800,000 fencing project for the landfill is a good idea, but the town needed to be prepared for the side effects.
“This is going to be a pretty significant item for the next council when this fence does get installed,” he said. “There are still a fairly large number of bears accessing the landfill, including mothers with cubs. So they are being trained as that as their main food source.
“I know the town administration has been working with ENR and some of the Indigenous organizations on this item.”
Town Council voted unanimously to enter into a $600,000 contribution agreement with the federal government to expand and completely enclose the solid waste facility just outside of town. The town will cover the other $200,000.
The fencing will keep bears, which are known to scavenge the landfill for food and frequently spotted by people using the landfill, outside of the area.
However, Baryluk noted those bears will still be accustomed to going to the landfill for an easy meal and will likely keep scavenging in the area — and the town is the logical place to start looking.
“It’s going to require a large communication effort on behalf of the town and the other partners,” he said. “Because when this fence goes up it has the potential to displace quite a large number of grizzly bears potentially into the community.
“Luckily for the town we have been doing a number of things like putting in the bear-proof bins around town ahead of this happening so it reduces the food reward that the bears may experience by coming into town, which will reduce the incentive for them to come in. But there is a potential for at least a year, maybe even two, where a large number of bears may be coming into the community — which would be a potentially large safety concern.”
To mitigate the risk of hungry bears wandering through town, particularly mothers with cubs, Baryluk said the town needed to prepare residents for the risks and ensure the public knows how to be bear smart, on top of the bear-proof garbage bins.
In spite of the risks, he noted the fencing was the right decision, as they have shown to be the solutions for other northern municipalities coping with bears at their landfills.
“There’s also a slight possibility that none of them may come in at all but it you never know until it happens,” he said. “So I’m glad to see this fence going up because I think it’s sorely needed for community safety in the long term.
“They have had a lot of success with these, in the Yukon in particular, where almost pretty much all their landfills and all the communities there are fenced and they really minimized any bear problems they have in those communities, after the first year or two in some cases but usually once the bears realize they can’t get into the landfill anymore they don’t come around.
“But the ones that are already conditioned on being in there are the ones that may be a problem.”
Senior administrative officer Grant Hood told council work on the landfill was anticipated to begin in February or March of next year.