Bear 148 holds a fish in her mouth near Vermilion Lakes in 2015.
RMO FILE PHOTO
Famed female grizzly bear 148 has been shot dead by a hunter in B.C.
No specific details were available at the time the Outlook went to press Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 27), but government officials in Alberta and B.C. confirmed it had happened.
The death of bear 148, a six-and-half-year-old grizzly relocated from Canmore to remote northwestern Alberta in July, was reported to authorities. The ban on the B.C. trophy hunt does not become effective until Nov. 30.
Reg Bunyan of Bow Valley Naturalists said 148’s death is sad, but not unexpected, noting bears relocated from their home range into unfamiliar territory rarely survive.
“Relocated bears just don’t survive. Whether she was hunted or something else, she probably would have ended up dead. There’s 100 different ways to get into trouble,” he said. “What’s frustrating about this, of course, is the decision to relocate the bear was a political decision, while the people in the field know bear relocation does not work,” he added.
“We’re talking about an habituated bear, which to a large extent didn’t have a natural fear of people and, with no exposure to hunting, this is no great surprise in the end."
Bear 148 spent 90 per cent of her time in Banff National Park, but ventured outside the protected boundaries of the national park into the Canmore area in summer to feast on buffalo berries.
She was relocated out of Canmore to an area near Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park about 500 kilometres away on July 28 following several encounters with joggers, bikers, hikers and people with dogs in a heavily used area on the south side of the Bow Valley.
The decision to relocate the bear, considered vital to the local, slowly reproducing population of about 60 grizzly bears, was a highly controversial one.
Local staff with three provincial government agencies made a consensus decision July 27 to close a large chunk of land on the south side of the valley near Quarry Lake and the power line to better manage 148 and reduce risk of someone getting hurt.
However, that decision by local staff from both Operations and Parks divisions of Alberta Environment and Parks, and Fish and Wildlife, was reversed. An order came down from higher-ranking officials beyond the regional level to relocate bear 148.
Since being shipped out of Canmore, data from 148’s GPS collar showed she was crisscrossing back and forth between drainages in Alberta and B.C., travelling hundreds of kilometres in her new home. At one point she came within 70 km of McBride, B.C.
Canmore Mayor John Borrowman, who, with Banff-Cochrane MLA Cam Westhead is leading discussions to improve human-wildlife coexistence in the Bow Valley following the events with 148 this summer, was in shock when he learned of 148’s death.
He said it was an absolute shame given all the hard work by Parks Canada and provincial wildlife officials to keep her alive.
“It’s disappointing to hear she met her ultimate end through a hunter. It’s really shocking,” he said. “It’s very disappointing after all the agony and anxiety we’ve experienced in the valley and the hard work to try to help bear 148 continue on with a happy bear life.
Bunyan said once the political decision was made to relocate 148, it was just a question of when, where and how.
He said rather than blaming the agency that relocated 148, or the hunter who shot her, everyone needs to assume some personal responsibility if bears are to remain on this landscape.
“It’s easy for Bow Valley residents and visitors to say they are willing to live in close proximity to bears, but if so, words have to match our actions and that means living with a certain element of risk and giving bears the space they need,” he said. “Habitat loss through development and recreational pressures will continue to weigh heavily on the viability of our local population."
In a recent Outlook story, Alberta wildlife officials said they weren’t too worried bear 148 would be hunted in B.C., noting they’d been told by their provincial counterparts in B.C. that hunters, as a general rule, don’t typically kill collared grizzlies.
“She’s also not a really big bear, so we don’t think she would be a target for the sport hunt,” said Paul Frame, Alberta’s provincial carnivore specialist. “It’s possible, but I wouldn’t think so.”
Parks Canada, the agency that managed 148 for most of her life, could not immediately provide a spokesperson by the Outlook’s deadline.