Better behaviour needed around bears by visitors and locals alike, say experts – Calgary

Living in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains means some of your neighbours might be large, furry and walk around on four legs.

With ongoing trail and park closures due to bear activity in and around the town of Canmore, officials with Wildsmart — a wildlife education and outreach program — say consistency during bear encounters is the key to teaching bears to give humans a wide berth, and vice versa.

“If we all react the same way, these bears will get a consistent message from people and not want to come close to people and stay away from people,” says Nick De Ruyter, education and outreach coordinator at Wildsmart.

Research conducted at the University of Alberta studied 2,043 grizzly bears in B.C., Alberta and Montana. (Spencer Rettler)

De Ruyter says consistency means not only carrying bear spray, but using it if a bear comes too close. Keeping dogs on a leash at all times is another step De Ruyter recommends, adding visitors and locals are both guilty of letting dogs roam free on he trials.

“I don’t think anyone can point a finger at one specific group, it’s just as a whole we all need to do better, locals and visitors alike,” said De Ruyter. “Especially locals because we need to set an example for the visitors that are coming here.”

Not your average bear

One high-profile bear has been making headlines this summer.

The exploits of Bear #148 — Banff’s local celebrity beast — continue to make the rounds on social media.

This summer, 148 has wandered onto a high school rugby field, chased dogs out for a walk with their owners and even charged a person walking with a stroller.

Bear closures

Bear #148 was taken at the Fenland Trail day use area last week. (Alex Taylor/Parks Canada)

As a result of multiple encounters with humans, her fate is still in question.

Earlier this month, the province warned that if the grizzly exhibits aggressive behaviour toward people in provincially managed areas, officials might resort to killing it.

Over exposure

But with exposure to wildlife on social media can come some positive developments says Michael Fark, general manager of municipal infrastructure with the town of Canmore. 

“I think that what’s happening is that some people are becoming more aware… certainly through social media there has been a lot of discussion around the dangers for the animals if there are negative interactions with people,” says Fark.

“And because of that awareness there’s more momentum behind trying to take stronger action.”

One of those actions includes removing food sources from areas where bears and humans might collide.

With a fresh crop of berry bushes available in and around the town, Wildsmart have been removing the bushes from popular area frequented by both bears and people.

“There’s an abundance of berries, so all we’re trying to do is reduce the possibility for a human-bear encounters and try and keep that separation, so we remove the food source from the high human use areas,” De Ruyter said.

Fark said there will be discussions between the town and province on what are the best steps moving forward to protect wildlife while keeping people safe.

  • With files from Colleen Underwood

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