Bear 148 is suspected to have followed a woman and her dogs on Spray River Loop.
RMO FILE PHOTO
A Canmore woman kick-sledding with two dogs along the Spray River Loop in Banff National Park had a close encounter with a grizzly bear that chased her for a few hundred metres.
Annette Young was very shaken by the encounter on Saturday (April 15), but said she's thankful she is safe and unharmed, noting the bear eventually stopped not far from the trailhead after following her for almost a kilometre.
The bear is believed to be prominent female bear 148, who came out of the den last week and was known to be in the area.
Young, who was carrying bear spray, said she heard the “galloping steps of a big animal running behind” her.
“It was not massively enormous, but big enough to make me feel very uncomfortable,” said Young, who operates Wags Unlimited in Canmore.
“I literally thought, ‘you've' got to be kidding me. This is the kind of stuff that happens in movies or to other people.' ”
At this point, Young said the dogs weren't aware the bear was following them, so she quietly told them to keep going.
“They picked up speed, but to my horror the bear did the same,” she said.
Realizing she couldn't outrun the grizzly bear, Young then asked her dogs to stop.
She made herself as big as she could by flailing her arms and started screaming to try to scare the bear – and the bear stopped. She grabbed her bear spray, but the bear was not close enough to effectively use it.
“I'm hollering and screaming and the dogs just amazingly stood there,” she said.
With the bear standing still about 10 metres away, Young told her dogs to get moving again, prompting the bear to give chase yet again. She kept stopping and starting several times.
“I'd stop, scream and holler, picked up rocks and threw them, only to have (the bear) dodge my rocks, pause and nothing more,” she said. “And so it went for about 400 terrifying metres.”
Young reported the encounter to Parks Canada and the wildlife team was quick to put up warning signs at the trailhead to alert people there was a bear in the area.
Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park, said the wildlife team believes the bear was 148 because she was in the area, noting Young wasn't able to see an ear tag on the bear, but did see a collar.
“This is behaviour that is certainly of concern for us, but knowing 148 and her extreme tolerance of people and familiarity in high use areas, we did slap a warning in the area to let people know,” he said. “We think it was a chance encounter. We're not taking any further action, but we're monitoring the situation.”
Canmore's Mike Gibeau, a renowned grizzly bear expert and a retired Parks Canada carnivore specialist, said this is not necessarily an uncommon situation, noting a similar incident in Fort McMurray in 2014 involving two joggers and a black bear.
“It's like dogs, if you start running, they start running and we've seen that with bears,” he said, noting expert opinion says people should not run when approached by a bear. “There's lots of movement there and because the pace is faster, the bear likes to jog along behind.”
Gibeau said it's always difficult to speculate on exactly what prompted the bear to follow, but he suspects the bear continued because the woman ran, plus the fact there were dogs.
He said research has shown that dogs can trigger a response in bears and get them interested, noting that's why people are advised not to take their dogs into the backcountry.
“It often starts as curiosity, but that's a whole slippery slope from curiosity at the beginning of the scale to a predatory response at the end of the scale. It sounds like the bear here had no interest to get close to her to make contact,” said Gibeau.
“I think the factors at play here are probably that she took off and that she had dogs, and the combination of those two things heightened the awareness of the bear,” he added.
Meanwhile, Hunt said this encounter is a good reminder that it's bear season, noting people should have bear spray and know how to use it, travel in groups, and keep dogs on a leash. In this particular case, he said he was pleased to hear the woman had bear spray but even better that she didn't have to use it.
“It's bear season folks and that means being aware and prepared,” said Hunt.