Everywhere that can be remotely considered bear country, every publication that refers to compost tells the reader not to put fish waste in their pile. Fish, perhaps the most effective fertilizer known to Nature, attracts bears. This fact gets flogged repeatedly, ubiquitously, almost annoyingly.
I know the rule, but I often flaunt it. We have very few bears around our “homestead,” so I sometimes bury the remains of fish I’ve caught deeply (more or less) in the compost pile, and hope for the best.
A friend in Wrangell, whom we viisted briefly, asked if we have bear trouble here. I blithely told him that we almost never see them here, then regaled him with a few examples of my moose trouble (see Charged By a Moose). When we returned home, I filled our crab bait capsule with fish waste, then buried the rest in the compost. I even thought of the rule against doing so even as I decided I could get away with not digging quite so deep this one time.
Yesterday, I got busted.
When I walked past the garden yesterday morning, I found a trail of bear sign on the path. When I got to the compost pile, I found my beautiful screen lid (see Time to Put a Lid on It) opened in the middle, where a bear had torn through it to go directly to the spot in the pile where I’d buried the fish.
After alerting the family, I studied the area. I found one faint track, which I examined and guessed that we’d been visited by a black bear. Black bear prints almost never show claw marks, because their claws are small; brown bears’ longer claws almost always show marks at the end of their prints.
Also, the appearance and distribution of the sign looked like black bear. Brown bears often announce their presence and mark their territory with large piles of dung dead in the center of the trail. This deposit had been made on the move as it were. Likely it got scared out of our visitor by a noise from the house at some point. We’ve seen this before (see Visitors, Welcome and Otherwise).
We posted Critter Gitters around the compost pile and garden, hoping to protect our newly ripening strawberries and other edibles (see The Critter Gitter Gits Its Critter ). I’ll wait a few days before repairing my lid, just in case we get another visit. We’ll be hypervigilent for a little while, that’s for sure!
Ironically, our local paper recently reported that bear activity has been unusually low. This may help explain the visit. Since most bears around here are the large brown bears, which sometimes consider black bears to be prey, perhaps this visitor felt more assured to roam this season, or simply lived long enough to do so?
Have I learned my lesson? It’s hard to say. We’re going on 8 years of adding fish to our garden beds and compost piles. This is the first time a bear has “busted” us for it. The odds seem good, and the pay off for the garden high enough that we’re likely to continue, although next time, I’ll dig deeper!
As I posted this, a neighbor on the bay side emailed that a bear had been in their compost. Hmmmm…..