Alberta’s mountain parks draw both well-versed backcountry hikers and inexperienced visitors but wildlife experts say everyone should be properly educated and equipped to face the unexpected including a chance encounter with a bear.
“At this time of year, we’ve still got a lot of snow up high in the mountains so the bears are forced down into the lower valley bottoms because that’s the only food available to them,” said Jon Stuart-Smith, acting Human Wildlife Conflict Specialist with Parks Canada. “In the area along the 1A, the Bow Valley Parkway, there’s been quite a number of bears sighted.”
Stuart-Smith says, with the expected influx of visitors to Banff National Park during the Canada 150 celebrations, measures are in place to ensure information is readily available.
“We are prepared to try and give people those safety messages in terms of what to do when they encounter wildlife and how to view wildlife safely.” Wildlife safety information will be offered at all visitor centres and the gates to the national park.
While bear attacks are extremely rare, Stuart-Smith says there is a bear deterrent tool, readily available for purchase, that could prove invaluable should you cross paths with a bear.
“We recommend bear spray and we don’t recommend things like flares, pen flares, or bear bangers and we don’t recommend things like bear bells,” explained Stuart-Smith. “Bear spray has been proven scientifically to be effective and those other things are not necessarily going to be effective.”
Stuart-Smith says bear bangers, which are small explosives, carry the potential for injury or escalating an encounter. “If a bear is close to you and you shoot off a bear banger that explodes behind that bear, that might force the bear towards you and make the situation more dangerous. It could make the bear more aggressive because it’s now scared of the noise.”
The flaw with bear bells is their sound means little to a bear. “They just don’t make enough noise and they don’t make a bear aware that you’re human. A little tinkling noise doesn’t necessarily tell a bear that there’s a person nearby.”
To prevent a negative encounter with a bear, Stuart-Smith recommends:
- Making noise when travelling on a trail
- Hiking in groups
- Making sure that dogs are on a leash at all times
- Not leaving any food unattended at campsites