Soapberry season brings out bears

The delicious allure of ripe soapberries has prompted the influx of bears in and around urban areas in the Yukon.

The delicious allure of ripe soapberries has prompted the influx of bears in and around urban areas in the Yukon.

But the feast has reduced the number of unpleasant bear encounters.

On Monday, a combined force of Yukon conservation officers, airport security and airport maintenance staff chased a bear off the grounds of the Whitehorse International Airport.

After the bear failed to walk into an overnight bear trap set by conservation officers, it was chased out of a gate into the surrounding clay cliffs area.

The bear had deftly bypassed the airport’s barbed wire enclosure fence, and was living freely within the rich soapberry patches along the enclosure’s fringes.

“We had a bear here last year as well,” said airport safety and security officer Dennis Robinson.

Bear and other land animals have never really posed a threat to airport operations, as the creatures usually stick to the wooded fringes, away from the tarmac.

Loose domestic dogs, on the other hand, can sometimes be seen wandering around the runway in the path of oncoming aircraft.

In the past, barbed wire and 2.4-metre fences have posed little obstacle for tenacious wildlife in the Whitehorse area.

“I’ve chased moose (at the jail) before — they can get in,” said conservation officer Kris Gustafson.

On the evening of July 30, a mother bear and two cubs made an appearance at the Whitehorse Rifle and Pistol Club, walking along a road just in front of a line of shooters at the range.

Despite the rise in bear sightings due to the presence of soapberries, the rise in bear incidents has gone down. Soapberries mean well-fed bears, and well-fed bears mean happy bears.

“Now (the bears have) got a good source of food and they don’t need to scavenge and things like this,” said Bruce Bennett, wildlife viewing biologist for the Department of Environment.

“If people encounter a bear, it makes for a good bear story, but beyond that, it shouldn’t be too serious an issue,” said Gustafson.

The calming nature of soapberry season was lost on a Haines Junction bear when it encountered a jogger behind the fire station.

Having a cub in the area, the bear perceived the jogger as a threat and acted aggressively. The jogger quickly climbed a tree, where he remained for about 10 to 15 minutes.

“Between his dog and the pepper spray that he was carrying he managed to dissuade the bear and cause it to leave the area,” said conservation officer Ken Knutson.

Conservation officers quickly cleared and posted the area, asking residents to be vigilant about future bear sightings.

In Canmore, Alberta, there’s a program to remove soapberry bushes, given their status as a potent bear attractant.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” said Bennett, who called soapberries “the engine running the Yukon.”

Voles, martens and lynx are just some of the other wildlife known to feast on the August soapberry harvest, he said.