BANFF – A Banff resident was woken in the middle of the night by a pack of wolves howling in the alley behind his home on the 500 block of Banff Avenue.
The March 19 incident has led Parks Canada to call on the community to immediately let them know if they hear or see wolves in town, wanting to avoid what happened in 2016 when they had to kill two food-conditioned wolves for public safety reasons.
“The reporting person got up and looked out the window in the alleyway and saw four wolves,” said Dan Rafla, a human-wildlife conflict specialist with Banff National Park, noting the man called Banff dispatch at about 1 a.m. and Parks was there within 25 minutes. “The wolves had gone by the time we had shown up.”
In 2016, two female wolves, including the breeding female of the Bow Valley pack, were shot by Parks Canada amid concerns they were a threat to public safety after repeatedly getting into food and garbage.
At one point, the breeding female grabbed a loaf of bread and forced campers into their vehicle at Tunnel Mountain Campground. In other incident, wolves got into garbage at Johnston Canyon parking lot.
Wolves in the pack had approached a cyclist on Bow Valley Parkway, followed a woman walking her dog and took down elk on the train overpass at the eastern entrance to the townsite in broad daylight.
The pack was all but decimated, with another member shot dead in B.C. and four pups run over and killed by trains. Two survived, a breeding male that joined the Spray pack and another that is now the breeding female of the Bow Valley pack.
To avoid the same situation with the pack, Rafla said it’s critical that people work with Parks by reporting wolf sightings, or if they hear wolves howling, and making sure food and garbage is secured.
“We can’t do this in isolation, so it’s important people let us know when they see wolves or hear them. We’re working really hard to prevent what happened in 2016,” he said.
“These reports are critical for us in detecting any changes in behaviour, so we can put in any preventatives measures to prevent habituation getting any worse.”
The Bow Valley wolf pack has been hunting elk and deer regularly in the wildlife corridors around town over the last month or two, but March 19 was the first time the wolves came inside town boundaries.
Parks suspects the wolves were just passing through town, and were tracked via a conventional VHF collar on the breeding female heading around Tunnel Mountain to the golf course.
Rafla said the wolves will have some level of habituation living in the valley, but the key is to make sure they don’t become food-conditioned, or too comfortable around people and developments.
“That’s a yellow flag for us because they’re getting more exposure to people and the potential for habituation increases,” he said.
“The further they get seen in town, the risk of coming across unsecured attractants, close proximity buildings and people, that’s a bit of a concern for us.”
The breeding female, known as 1701, is fitted with a conventional VHF collar and the breeding male has both GPS and VHF collars. The pack was struck a blow last month when a one-year-old wolf pup was killed on the Trans-Canada Highway near Banff.
The number to call to report wolf sightings to Banff park dispatch is 403-762-1470.