It’s about saving bears and feeding people, Meg Toom said.
This summer, the Squamish Bear Aware community coordinator is wearing yet another hat — that of the Fruit Tree Project coordinator. Started eight years ago, the initiative, in partnership with Squamish Climate Action Network (CAN), aims to harvest fruit from local trees that would otherwise be left to rot. It’s a program that helps in two ways, Toom said.
First, the collected fruit is placed with community organizations, such as Squamish Helping Hands Society, healthy pregnancy outreach and high school cooking classes.
“There are lots of places to distribute the fruit,” Toom said.
The project also helps the bears, she said. Since July 1, Squamish conservation officers have shot three bears — two of which officers said were attracted to neighbourhoods because of people’s careless storage of food. A bear’s sense of smell is 2,100 times better than that of humans, making unpicked fruit a huge draw, Toom noted.
“[The Fruit Tree project] is great to keep bears out of backyards,” she said.
Last year, the program enlisted 25 volunteers to harvest food at 20 different locations. It is labour-intensive work, Toom said.
“We are always looking for volunteers to pick,” she said.
This year, Toom aims to set up neighbour-to-neighbour collaboration. She also plans to map the community’s fruit trees on the District of Squamish’s geographic information system (GIS). That will allow volunteers to keep track of harvesting and may provide insight into bears’ movements, Toom said.