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Four grizzly bear deaths in Yoho National Park prompt calls for wildlife summit

“A wildlife summit can discuss a number of issues and one of the core issues has to be how do we make sure that the Lake Louise grizzly bear population becomes a source for grizzly bears again and not a sink population."
A rare white grizzly bear as hit and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park. PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA

LAKE LOUISE – Parks Canada is being called upon to host a wildlife summit following the deaths of four grizzly bears in as many days on the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park.

A fourth grizzly bear was killed on an unfenced section of the highway near Field, B.C. on June 9 – just days after the famed rare white grizzly bear, nicknamed Nakoda, and her two cubs were struck and killed on a fenced section of the highway between Wapta Lake and the Lake O’Hara turnoff.

John Marriott, a prominent local wildlife advocate and photographer, said it is time for a wildlife summit to address highway and habitat mitigation measures for the long-term health and well-being of grizzly bears and other wildlife within the national parks.

“A wildlife summit can discuss a number of issues and one of the core issues has to be how do we make sure that the Lake Louise grizzly bear population becomes a source for grizzly bears again and not a sink population,” said Marriott, who is also co-founder of Exposed Wildlife Conservancy.

“Yes, the population is probably doing fine there because bears are immigrating in from elsewhere, and we’ve got no hunting zones around it on the B.C. side, but that’s not good enough for a flagship national park, for a UNESCO world heritage site. It becomes an ethical issue, it becomes a management issue.”

The white grizzly bear, tagged No. 178, was struck on the fenced section of the Trans-Canada Highway between Wapta Lake and the Lake O’Hara turnoff on June 6. Earlier that day, her newborn cubs were killed on the same stretch of highway.

That section is a 90-km/h zone and the mamma bear had figured out a way to penetrate a weakness in the hot-wired wildlife exclusion fence to feast on dandelions beside the busy highway with trucks, buses and cars buzzing by.

After Nakoda was struck by a vehicle, she limped away and hunkered down in the forest. However, Parks Canada’s wildlife team found her dead on June 8 after her GPS collar let off a mortality signal.

An older male grizzly was then struck along an unfenced section of the highway near Field, B.C., at approximately midnight on June 9.

“Parks Canada’s wildlife management team responded and confirmed that an older male grizzly bear was deceased,” said James Eastham, public relations and communications officer for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay.

“Parks Canada does not have additional information on this bear as it was previously unknown to us.”

Nakoda was the sixth known breeding female to die in the Lake Louise, Yoho, Kootenay field unit since 2020 and the 14th grizzly to die at the hands of humans in the mountain parks of Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper since 2019.

Exposed Wildlife Conservancy, a non-profit group raising awareness of critical wildlife and conservation issues in Canada, has started an online campaign calling for a wildlife summit. It is being done via an advocacy and engagement platform and can be found at:

The letter will go to the federal environment minister, the head of Parks Canada, and the superintendent of Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit.

The pitch for the wildlife summit to take an in-depth look at mitigation measures would include a field of independent biologists, conservation groups, the general public, Transport Canada, Canadian Pacific Kansas City railway and Parks Canada.

At the top of the list is a call for implementing proactive full or part-time annual special wildlife zones where speed restrictions and no-stopping become mandatory for certain dates on the Trans-Canada Highway and other mountain park roads.

“Lower speed limits and no-stopping zones … but that doesn’t matter if there’s no enforcement,” said Marriott.

“There has to be constant law enforcement or speed cameras.”

Increasing wildlife zone signage substantially, including considering signage that is more shocking like what is seen in construction zones is another idea.

“When you drive through construction zones, there’s a sign with a little kid and it says ‘my daddy works here’, so why not have a bear cub and say ‘my mother got killed here’,” said Marriott. “We need to get people’s attention.”

The federal government is also being asked to come up with funding to complete the twinning and fencing, and wildlife crossing structures, of the Trans-Canada Highway through Yoho National Park.

Parks Canada completed the first six kilometres in 2018, but there has been no federal funds to complete the remaining 40 km section between Sherbrooke Creek and the western end of the park.

“I do want to applaud Parks Canada for being extremely good at highway mitigation measures like fencing and wildlife crossings, but we now need to put pressure on the federal government outside of Parks Canada to finish twinning and fencing that,” said Marriott.

In addition to that, Marriott said another mitigation could be completing the full electrification of highway fencing in Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks to deter bears from climbing fences and accessing roadside vegetation, like dandelions.

He also spoke to creating alternative habitat patches away from the roadsides throughout key bear zones in the mountain parks in areas such as the Kicking Horse hill in Yoho, the Radium hill in Kootenay, and Bow Summit in Banff.

Marriott said Parks Canada cannot “babysit” bears 24/7 like they did for Nakoda.

A wildlife management team spent hundreds and hundreds of hours trying to keep her safe and relocated her away from the highway three times to an area within her home range in Yoho National Park – but she kept coming back

“That’s not sustainable,” said Marriott.

“I think Parks Canada’s ground staff did absolutely everything they could and even the level of management above them really pulled the levers that they could, but we need longer-term solutions.”

When Marriott heard Nakoda had been struck and later succumbed to her injuries, he wasn’t surprised.

“I knew it was going to happen. I was shocked that she had lived this long, particularly after watching her behaviour,” he said.

He believes she probably survived as long as she did because of fewer cars on the highway during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic and multi-year construction of the highway east of Golden, which diverted traffic through Kootenay National Park.

“I would say it was very lucky that she lived to seven-and-a-half, that she got to the point where she could have cubs,” said Marriott.

“Her death was an absolutely disastrous blow to Banff's beleaguered grizzly population.”

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