Oil extraction in Alberta’s tar sands region has long been a contentious subject, with many decrying the industry’s impact on the region’s fragile environment. But the region’s oil boom and subsequent influx of people is now apparently taking a toll on the region’s bears, not through loss of habitat, but the proliferation of garbage.

From this story in the Edmonton Journal:

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development says 145 black bears were killed by Fish and Wildlife conservation officers last year after being habituated to garbage in the oilsands region. The number of bears shot in the Fort McMurray district was nearly three times the count the previous year and the highest in recent history, said spokesman Darcy Whiteside. Nearly half — 68 bears — were shot in oilsands camps and facilities after being attracted to the camp by food, garbage or other attractants, Whiteside said Tuesday. Another 51 were shot on residential properties.

No individual or company was charged with improper storage of food or other attractants, Whiteside said. Environment and wildlife conservation groups were outraged by the number of black bear killings. They immediately blamed the deaths on lax garbage management and a lack of proper monitoring and regulation by the provincial government. “It’s a very disturbing fact to hear and it’s one more cost of oilsands development that we need to look at,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace.

“The fact that these numbers are so high is definitely very worrying,” Hudema said. Alberta Wilderness Association conservation specialist Carolyn Campbell said it suggests Albertans are far from using best practices “or even a modern attitude” toward wildlife management. “There needs to be much more responsible behaviour by companies running these camps to really get serious about reducing food and other attractants. . . . The attitude of ‘attract them, feed them and then shoot’ them is really repugnant to most Albertans.”

An unavoidable by-product of needed energy development, or sloppy, irresponsible refuse management?