The Tofino Community Food Initiative is hoping a new volunteer program will bear fruit.
The TCFI has partnered with WildSafeBC on a Fruit Gleaning Program aimed at removing delicious but dangerous bear attractants while tapping into an abundant local food source.
The pilot project will operate in both Tofino and Ucluelet with volunteers gathering fruit that would otherwise lure bears into local backyards.
“It’s a great initiative,” WildSafeBC Pacific Rim manager Bob Hansen told the Westerly News. “It’s exciting. They did a ton of work and looked at fruit gleaning programs around the island and around the province and did the fundraising…It’s been a ton of work but it’s happening.”
The pilot project has been in the works since 2019 when a bountiful fruit crop led to a disastrous number of local black bears becoming habituated and food-conditioned and 14 of them being killed by conservation officers.
“A couple of years ago we just had a horrible year with many bears meeting their end after getting into that super abundant fruit crop we had a few years ago,” Hansen said.
The program coordinator Hélène Descoteaux noted “Wildlife and food growing often can be in conflict” and said the two organizations work together often for programs to help educate about things like electric fencing and when the 2019 massacre occurred, the groups quickly put their heads together.
“Two really great outcomes would be to help mitigate those conflicts with bears as well as tap into that local food source that we have,” she said.
She said fruit tends to arrive in abundance in August and the program will run into October.
Volunteers can sign up to join the Glean Team on coordinated fruit picks by visiting the organization’s website at www.tofinocommunityfoodinitiative.com.
“The Glean Team is a really great opportunity to get outside this summer and meet other people in the community,” she said. “We’re super keen to have more volunteers sign up…We have quite an extensive volunteer list but the more the merrier.”
The initiative is also asking any residents with fruit trees on their property to reach out and register as a Tree Steward so that their trees can be put on the list and no fruit goes to waste or attracts bears into their neighbourhood.
Descoteaux said Tree Stewards will take a third of the fruit, the volunteer crew will take another third home and the remaining third will be distributed out to the community through a partnership with the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild.
“It will be really exciting to see what types of fruit are in the community,” she said. “We’re also talking with local makers that could create value-added products out of the fruit and that would also help create some earned revenues to make the program more sustainable over time.”
She said that any rotten fruit that’s collected will be composted through a partnership with Tofino Urban Farm Co.
She added the program received funding support from Ocean Outfitters and the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust.