It’s spring, and in ‘bear country’ communities, such as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, that means hibernation season is coming to an end and bear safety is top of mind.
The Bear Management Program at Suncor works to ensure the safety of both our workers and the bears that live on and near our regional sites. We continuously improve the program, which includes waste management, training, personal protective equipment, education, field assessments, sighting reporting, response, and bear tracking as the science and research on bears and safety techniques evolve.
During bear sighting responses, trained specialists patrol the areas on-site and respond to the sightings, which occur mainly during active bear season - usually April to mid-October. Trained wildlife monitors accompany crews working in a known wildlife habitat to respond to any bears sightings to ensure the safety of both the bear and crew.
This important work is conducted by a contracted Indigenous business, Three Feathers, and their sub-contractor company, Bear Scare. Three Feathers has been our main contractor for this work since 2019, and previously we worked with Bear Scare for many years. The cooperation of these two companies has been beneficial to both them and Suncor, as many of Bear Scare’s workers are retired Fish and Wildlife officers or park rangers with many years of experience, creating a great mentorship opportunity for the local Indigenous workers.
“Working with companies such as Three Feathers and Bear Scare has allowed this program to run successfully and for so long,” shares Rebecca Paton, Advisor, Environment & Regulatory, at Suncor and regional bear program lead. “These individuals are great at their job, and I know the workers at our sites feel safer because they’re there.”
Both organizations train their workers rigorously in bear safety and each wildlife field service provider has considerable experience and knowledge about bears before working on a Suncor site. Prior to starting, they also receive Suncor-specific training to ensure the workers are familiar with our safety protocols.
“Safety is of the utmost importance,” says Sabrina Pelley, Manager, Field Services, Suncor. “Because hibernation season is ending, we will start to see more bears on our sites, and everyone should be brushing up on their bear safety and safety procedures.”
The bear management program uses a technique called ‘aversive conditioning’ to train the bears to not become habituated to humans and human behaviour. Non-lethal deterrents, such as noise deterrents, are used consistently towards bears displaying undesired behaviour. The goal of aversive conditioning is to teach bears to avoid humans and run away by preventing them from learning and using habituated behaviours.
“Aversive conditioning doesn’t hurt the bears in any way, and it helps us achieves our goal of teaching them to avoid humans,” says Rebecca. “
Safety is always the number one priority. All employees and contractors working at Suncor sites in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo must take wildlife awareness training designed for field workers and others who may be working in remote wilderness areas.