How to promote coexistence in the epicenter area of human-bears conflicts
Location: Băile Tușnad – Romania,
Story by: Pilbáth G. Attila
Pilbáth G. Attila has run a project dedicated to sustainable living with bears in a Romanian resort. Baile Tușnad is a small touristic town in center Romania, very well known for the many human-bear encounters occurring every year. His NGO – ACCENT GeoEcological Organization – from Harghita county is constantly collaborating with local authorities and pension owners to implement measures meant to deter bears to come in residential areas. They also distribute informative materials about bears, support ecological education for students, and also run an information point for tourists focused on the behavior of bears.
If you say Băile Tușnad you think of mineral waters, the traditional kurtoskalacs, Lake Saint Ana and, of course, bears. During the last 2-3 years, the resort in central Romania (Harghita County) has gained an unprecedented notoriety due to its high density of bears and especially for the frequent appearance of wild animals in the residential or touristic areas.
Pilbáth G. Attila, the project coordinator, thinks that responsible for the numerous damages caused by the bear to the households, restaurants, pensions are only the humans.
”Basically we occupied its habitat through all the activities carried out daily (agriculture, logging, construction, etc.)”
, says Mr. Pilbáth.
He explains that Băile Tușnad is located right in the middle of an ecological corridor. That means a very old passageway of bears and other wildlife.
”Basically we kind of got in their way. It’s an old story … in the 80’s the bear also often appeared. There were also conflicts in the past, but they weren’t every day in the media, as today”
, he thinks.
Hence it is not necessarily a new situation, but only a period when a phenomenon of bear overpopulation of the area is added. The difference is that if in the past a bear use to have only one cub, now you see bears with 2-3 cubs. And that’s because today they have easier access to food. The food that we provide because of the bad management of household waste and thus attract them to residential areas.
On the other hand, bears face a shortage of natural food from the forest. During summer, the local woods are conquered by harvesters who intensively exploit the berries and mushrooms. Another cause would be logging, which significantly disrupts bear behavior and trails.
“If you feed the bear, you kill the bear”
As solution to prevent the attacks or the appearance of bears in the city or in the Lake Saint Ana area, is to find viable, scientific based methods to decrease the number of bears and also to address the “human” behavior, respectively to eliminate challenges (feeding the bear, selfies with the bear, waste availability, etc.).
Local authorities have been proactive and installed a few years ago massive, anti-bear secured dumpers. Unfortunately, the human factor intervenes, and many dumpers are usually left open. Thus they become an attraction as well as a trap for bear cubs. These dumpers should be further improved to make them easier to use, recommends Pilbáth G. Attila. It should also be possible for the waste operator to pick up the waste more often, 2-3 times a week, not just once as now.
Bear-safe garbage containers
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.
The establishment of information centres can be a helpful tool in regions where large carnivores are around. As a contact point in national parks and nature reserves, they help to inform tourists and hikers about native animals and educate them so that they can avoid conflicts. A lot of countries have shown that it is also crucial to establish regional advisers and/or facilities for particularly affected groups such as livestock owners, hunters and foresters. Personal exchanges are very important for giving individual advice. At the same time, it is also important to provide information online – particularly the monitoring data and management plans should be accessible to everyone.
Started in 2018, the project “Human-Bear Coexistence” promoted a friendly attitude towards nature and the strictly protected brown bear among locals and tourists from Băile Tușnad and its surroundings, as an important first step towards a sustainable coexistence. The organization also promote ecotourism through printed materials, based on the presence of the brown bear in the city area and the Piatra Șoimilor Nature Reserve.
So far, they have edited and distributed informative materials, namely flyers, posters, street banners, which contain useful information on bear behavior (in the forest or in residential areas), as well as recommendations on how to proceed if we meet a bear.
They set up an information point to provide useful information on bear behavior and organized extracurricular activities in the classroom and on the field for the local Junior Ranger group.
In 2018, they organized the first “Bear Festival”, in partnership with the Băile Tușnad Tourism Association and the City Hall. The purpose was to inform locals and tourists about the life and behavior of bears.
In addition, they tried to convince the pension owners to be more responsible, because they used to attract bears with food in their yard to be watched by the tourists.
”We are trying to get the pension owners more responsible, together with the local authorities (town hall and gendarmerie), but for the moment we are at warning level. As initiators of the local network for the promotion of eco-tourism in the area we also have this leverage, to impose on the pensions to respect certain rules, including a responsible attitude towards bears. We even suggest installing electric fences, which some have done. My parents, who have a pension, were among the first to put up their electric fence about 8 years ago. Since we don’t have any bears coming near them, I even noticed that at a distance of 2 meters from the fence a trail was created on which the wild animals go”.
FEHLEN 3 BILDER
Mr. Pilbáth thinks that both the County Council and the Ministry of the Environment should come up with concrete solutions and especially with financial support.
”You cannot solve such a big problem with only the local budget, without additional funds. If there were funds, solutions would come automatically”.
As for the chronic “failures” that should be addressed as a priority, a more coherent and effective legislation is needed. In addition, more funds from the public budget and a real involvement of specialists, because “we have not offered viable alternatives either”. Other measures: bear proof dumpers, installation of electric fences to protect livestock and, last but not least, civic education.
But is there a real chance to get, in time, a good coexistence with the bears?
”After a few more years, through education, education and again education, we’ll be able to diminish the problem and better coexist with the bear”
, thinks Mr. Pilbáth.