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Elk encounters force closure of mountain bike trails on Tunnel Mountain

“Parks Canada has implemented a new area closure in the Tunnel Mountain area to reduce the potential for human-wildlife conflict in this area.”
Parks Canada has expanded a closure on Tunnel Mountain following a series of encounters between people and cow elk protecting their newborn calves.

BANFF – Mama elk protecting their newborns have been charging at people on Tunnel Mountain in Banff, prompting the closure of popular mountain bike trails.

While an area on the west slope of Tunnel Mountain is closed every spring to give elk a secure space to give birth away from human activity, the expanded closure now includes the entire length of the Star Wars and Topp Notch mountain bike trails and a portion of The Return of the Jedi.

Those caught violating the superintendent-ordered closure, which is in place until June 30, could be charged under the Canada National Parks Act and face a fine of up to $25,000 in court.

Parks Canada officials say there has been an increase in elk encounters over the past week, including a few aggressive approaches towards people using trails on the east side of Tunnel Mountain.

“There have been no serious injuries reported to date,” said Kira Tryon, a public relations and communications officer for Banff National Park in an email.

“Parks Canada has implemented a new area closure in the Tunnel Mountain area to reduce the potential for human-wildlife conflict in this area.”

During the calving season from about late May until the end of June, cow elk typically use areas closer to the Banff townsite as a refuge to avoid predators like wolves, cougars and bears.

Protective mothers can be particularly aggressively protecting their newborns by charging and kicking at people.

A newborn calf can stand within 30 minutes to an hour of being born, but remains defenceless against predators for the first few weeks of its life. Because of this, cow elk keep the newborns well hidden in bushes and shrubs, but they always stand guard not too far away.

Tryon said spring is a particularly sensitive time of year for wildlife as species are waking from dens, foraging for food, or giving birth to their offspring.

“Human use areas – lawns, roadsides, golf courses, trails – are often among the first areas in the Bow Valley to green up in the spring which attracts wildlife, such as elk and bears, to these often highly visible locations,” she said.

To avoid an elk encounter, Parks Canada asks residents and visitors to stay at least 30 metres away from elk and avoid lone female elk because they separate from the herd for calving and may have a calf hidden nearby.

At this time, Tryon said it’s best to walk on open roads rather than forest trails to avoid stumbling upon female elk or calves.

She said to travel in groups and carry a walking stick, bear spray or umbrella.

“Always keep dogs on a leash, and under physical control,” she said, adding people should also consider leaving their dogs at home.

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