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keepwildlifealive.ca/

Canmore Teaches Residents The Bear Necessities Through Door-to-Door Campaign 

Canmore's approach mirrors the success of Neighbours United's Climate Change Campaign in Trail, BC, where deep canvassing led to significant shifts in opinion and action

Door-to-door salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses have many of us scared to answer the door, but there’s a good reason you should answer the knock in Canmore. 

The Keep Wildlife Alive Ambassador Program is back and better than ever after a successful pilot program last year. 

Canmore contracted the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley last year to oversee the program and contracted the Institute again this year. 

A black bear eating apples from a fruit free in a Canmore backyard  Rocky Mountain Outlook
A black bear eating apples from a fruit free in a Canmore backyard | Rocky Mountain Outlook

From the end of May to the beginning of fall, ambassadors will go door-to-door to talk with residents and give them tips on keeping their yards free of wildlife attractants. 

A wildlife attractant is just about anything that smells and might attract an animal, such as human food, garbage, and bird seed.

One of the most problematic wildlife attractants is fruit trees, which have attracted many bears to the town over the years.

Last year, Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers killed a black bear after it kept returning to feed on fruit trees in the Cougar Creek neighbourhood.  

Canmore has been trying to eliminate fruit trees in the town since 2019, when it first launched its fruit tree removal program

“We don’t want to draw wildlife into town, and then if they do come to town, we don’t want to give them a reason to stay,” Caitlin Van Gaal, Canmore’s supervisor of environment and sustainability, told CTV News.

At the time, Canmore encouraged residents to remove their fruit trees by paying 50 percent of the cost, typically less than $300.

The program received a serious upgrade last year. The town now pays 100 percent of fruit tree removal costs up to $500.

Residents don’t have to remove their fruit trees, but they need to remove the fruit from them. Otherwise, they could face fines of up to $1,000, according to the town’s community standard bylaw

The Keep Wildlife Alive campaign uses humour to educate Canmore residents about wildlife safety | keepwildlifealive
The Keep Wildlife Alive campaign uses humour to educate Canmore residents about wildlife safety | keepwildlifealive

Proof In The Fruit Pudding

In 2023, the program saw almost 100 fruit trees removed from 30 properties in Canmore, but it wasn’t a fear of bears or fines that motivated residents to take action. 

According to Anna Christensen, one of the program’s door-to-door ambassadors, about 40 people she talked to were unaware that fruit trees attracted bears. 

“Thirteen residents pledged to remove their trees using the incentive program, and 27 pledged to consistently remove fruit from their trees,” Christensen told Rocky Mountain Outlook

An arborist cutting down a mountain ash tree, a berry producing tree, in Canmore
An arborist cutting down a mountain ash tree, a berry producing tree, in Canmore | Rocky Mountain Outlook

Of the 174 conversations ambassadors had with residents, only 55 hesitated to remove fruit trees from their property.

Twenty-five residents said they didn’t want to remove their fruit trees for sentimental reasons, 16 couldn’t afford the removal, and 14 did not want to cut them down for aesthetic reasons. 

While some residents were hesitant about removing their fruit trees, most Canmorites were willing to listen, learn, and take action to keep bears and other wildlife out of town. 

Canmore’s program was successful for several reasons, the most important being residents’ care for wildlife. 

A door-to-door approach, also known as door-to-door canvassing, could be a big reason for the program’s success. 

There are different types of canvassing, the most well-known being political canvassing, which is used to influence voters during an election.

Canmore’s Keep Wildlife Alive Ambassador Program could be classified as deep canvassing, where ambassadors have long conversations with participants to educate them and shift their beliefs. 

Door-to-door canvassing has many benefits, but its ability to inspire people to take action is arguably the most important.

The Power Of Conversation

A Neighbours United campaign, a non-profit organization based in British Columbia, proves just how effective deep canvassing can be. 

Canvassing in rural America
In small and rural American towns, People’s Action’s canvasses generated around eight new
supporters of including undocumented immigrants in an expanded healthcare social safety net for every 100 conversations | PBS News

The organization leads campaigns and programs to push the needle on climate action. In 2022, the team launched a campaign in Trail, BC, to educate residents on the urgency of climate change. 

Neighbours United found that most residents viewed climate change as a distant problem that was not urgent. 

According to the Yale Program On Climate Communication’s (YPCCC) Climate Opinion Maps, less than half of residents in the West Kootenays, including in Trail, believed the impacts of climate change would harm them personally. 

This belief isn’t limited to BC. The YPCCC’s 2018 Climate Opinion Map shows that 70 percent of Albertans agree that the earth is getting warmer, more than 10 percent below the national average.

Just over 40 percent of Albertans believe that human activity is partly or mostly the cause for warmer temperatures, the lowest of any province. 

According to the map, just over 30 percent of Albertans think climate change will harm them personally. 

Neighbours United assembled a team of ambassadors to have almost 1,200 one-to-one, in-depth conversations with Trail residents.

These conversations lasted 15 to 20 minutes and focused on storytelling about real, lived experiences instead of arguing facts. 

The organization managed to persuade 40 percent of participants to shift their opinions and overcome their skepticism of climate change. 

Shortly after, the city council voted unanimously to transition to 100 percent renewable energy no later than 2025. 

Neighbours United shifted residents’ perspectives in a mining town like Trail. In the same way, Canmore’s program aims to educate its residents on the dangers of wildlife attractants and inspire action. 

Cutting down a fruit tree or properly disposing of food waste might seem insignificant, but it makes all the difference. Every bear that wanders into town looking for an easy meal puts you, your family, your friends, and your loved ones at risk.

Attractants also put bears’ lives at risk. In 2022, a mother black bear and her two cubs were killed after rummaging through a dumpster looking for food. 

Canmore has a long way to go to remove the town’s 2,500 fruit trees. The Keep Wildlife Alive program is a big step toward achieving this goal.

The percentage of Albertans who think the earth is getting warmer partly or mostly because of human activity compared to the national average
The percentage of Albertans who think the earth is getting warmer partly or mostly because of human activity compared to the national average | Screenshot | Yale Program On Climate Communication

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