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The Polish part of the Eastern Carpathians is characterized by a sparse population, but despite this the inhabitants still have to share the landscape with bears. Their presence has caused conflicts in relation to animal husbandry (sheep, goats, cows and horses), beekeeping, and recently tourism too. Stefan Jakimiuk explains how those conflicts were solved together with the local communities.
The Polish part of the Eastern Carpathians is characterized by a sparse population. However, before World War II, the density of human population in this area was high and bears were sparse. Post-war action of removing a large number of indigenous inhabitants from this area caused depopulation in this region. Wild nature returned to abandoned areas, and along with it, bears. Currently, the area of the Eastern Carpathians is one of the most attractive natural areas in Poland. However, human activities taking place here, such as animal husbandry (sheep, goats, cows and horses), beekeeping, and recently tourism also cause conflicts. Since 1953, the bear is a strictly protected species in Poland. Therefore, the State Treasury is obliged to pay compensation for damage caused by these animals.
The most common cause of conflicts is damage caused by brown bears looking for food near human settlements, e.g. in apiaries, orchards, or amongst farm animals. They are getting used to the presence of humans and are therefore not afraid of entering villages. Although this is a new problem, it is one of the most important issues. Since most people don’t know how to keep bears away due to a lack of knowledge, education is another important activity to prevent encounters and damage before they occur in the first place.
Preventing access to rubbish is a very important activity to avoid conflicts between bears and human. The containers should be specially designed so that bears were neither able to open nor destroy them. They should be placed along busy mountain trails or in car parks, where people leave a lot of waste, including organic waste. In addition several electric fences can be installed to protect large garbage containers located near mountain huts, in garbage sorting areas and to protect composters. These safeguards are only 100% effective if the waste is placed inside the containers. If the garbage is outside, the smell of the garbage will attract animals.
Previous research and practice shows that the use of electric fences significantly limits the access of bears to apiaries, waste dumps and anthropogenic food (Strorer et al. 1938, Davies and Rockwell 1986, Latour and Hagen 1993, Huygens and Hayashi 1999, Clarc et al. 2005). The effectiveness of electric fences was rated at 70-100% by these authors. For beekeepers, they are a possibility to protect their bees and honey. The electric shepherds used here were equipped with special solar panels which significantly prolonged the operation of their batteries, which was absolutely crucial. Additionally, the fence should not touch the grass or branches of trees and shrubs (grounding).
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A total of 50 containers were installed from 2013 to 2014. During the 9 years of our work in this area, we provided 150 sets of electric shepherds to protect apiaries against bears. Between 2009 and 2010, we checked the effectiveness of the fences. Of 35 apiaries protected by electric shepherds, damage re-occurred only twice. In one case, the electric fence had not been working properly because it had been damaged by falling branches. In the second case, it was the lack of electric voltage caused by battery discharge (after winter) that meant the bears could get into the area of the apiary.
Sometimes a particularly clever individual animal may be able to overcome the security measures. In such cases compensation must be paid. To keep damages at a minimum it is crucial to protect the apiaries. This is because, as one beekeeper in the Eastern Carpathians region said, "I can only support the protection of these beautiful animals if they don’t destroy my income".
The tools described above are effective. However, if they are not used in the proper way, they will not be a 100% reliable. So it’s not just about the tools but about educating the people in how to use them.
According to art. 126 para 1 of the Polish Act on Nature Conservation The State Treasury is liable for damages caused by:
- wolves - in the livestock;
- lynx - in the livestock;
- bears - in apiaries, livestock and crops;
Art. 126 para 2 states that responsibility does not include lost profits, e.g. possible future profits from the sale of young animals.
Visual inspection and damage assessment, as well as determination of the amount of compensation and its payment, is made by the regional director of environmental protection, and in the area of the national park, the director of this park.
Owners or users of agricultural and forestry farms may cooperate with the Regional Director for Environmental Protection (RDOS), and in the area of the national park with the Director of this park, in the scope of methods of protecting livestock against damage caused by wolves, lynxes and bears. This cooperation may include the construction of facilities or the implementation of treatments to prevent damage, financed from the budget of the locally competent Director of a national park or a Regional Director for Environmental Protection, as part of civil law agreements.
Compensation is not entitled to:
Persons who have been allocated with land owned by the State Treasury;
If the aggrieved party did not consent to the construction by the Regional Director for Environmental Protection or the Director of the national park of facilities or the implementation of treatments to prevent damage;
If the aggrieved party has not made the crop or agricultural produce retrieval within 14 days of the end of the harvest of this plant species in the given region;
For damages incurred in the property of the State Treasury, with the exception of property put into commercial use on the basis of the Civil Code;
For damage not exceeding 100 kg of rye per hectare of crop during the year;
For damage to agricultural crops established in violation of commonly used agrotechnical requirements;
For damages caused by wolves, bears or lynxes in the populations of livestock left, from sunset to sunrise, without direct care.
In disputes regarding the amount of compensation for damages caused by wolves, lynxes and bears, common courts decide.
According to the regulations in force, the remains of the killed animal should be disposed of, calling for a suitable company for this purpose, whose address can be obtained in the commune or poviat veterinary inspectorate (SdN “Wilk”).
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