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Hikers bluff charged by grizzly

Grizzly bear 148 – a well-known female bear whose home range includes the busy and developed Bow Valley in Banff – will be fitted with another tracking collar following recent close encounters with people.
Bear 148 being chased by a coyote in 2016.
Bear 148 being chased by a coyote in 2016.

Grizzly bear 148 – a well-known female bear whose home range includes the busy and developed Bow Valley in Banff – will be fitted with another tracking collar following recent close encounters with people.

On Sunday (April 7), Kenzie Campbell, Jessica Savard and Dominic Cyr, with a dog named Momo, were heading to the Cascade ampitheatre when they encountered bear 148 near Mount Norquay’s Mystic chairlift. The dog was on leash, but no one had bear spray.

The trio, who were about 25 feet away from the six-and-a-half-year-old bruin, backed up slowly, but when the the dog started barking, 148 bluff charged and the hikers then released the dog.

The barking dog circled and chased the well-known bruin, giving the three hikers the chance to run, but then the dog drew the bear back towards the trio – and 148 followed them all the way back to the parking lot.

Parks Canada officials say they investigate every bear encounter thoroughly, but in this case, they suspect bear 148 was more interested in the dog and likely became extremely agitated when the dog was set on her.

“My suspicion is the bear was showing interest not in them, but with the dog,” said Bill Hunt, Parks Canada’s resource conservation manager for Banff National Park, noting there have been documented cases in which dogs draw bears back to the owners.

“Because of the dog being let go and harassing the bear, the response she showed was not atypical for any bear, and I think she was quite tolerant. We’re not alarmed by this incident.”

Campbell, who lives in Banff, said it was a very intense and frightening encounter, noting he did fear for his life when bear 148 rushed at at him in a bluff charge.

“It was pretty wild and I did wonder how are we going to get away from this bear,” he said.

When they first spotted the bear, Campbell said the trio remained very calm and began to back away slowly.

“The dog started barking, causing the bear to bluff charge at us. We stopped completely and the bear started moving closer and the dog started barking more,” he said.

“I let go of the dog because she was going absolutely crazy. The dog ran past the bear and circled around and that’s when we made our getaway.”

But then bear 148 began to chase the dog. The dog in turn fled back towards the hikers, with 148 following closely behind all the way back to the Norquay parking lot.

The hikers had already called 911. Parks Canada resource conservation officers met them in the parking lot, and when the bear made a brief appearance on the edge of the lot, staff told the trio to get into a truck.

“The dog sat down, looked at the woods and started barking,” said Campbell. “Everyone looked at what she was barking at, and then the bear came like a bat out of hell through the woods. It slowed down and then stopped.”

In mid-April, the bear followed kick-sledder Annette Young and her two dogs on the Spray River Loop for several hundred metres, prompting Young to scream, make herself look big and throw rocks. She eventually wandered off.

Bear 148 has never attacked or been aggressive towards people.

“We’ve never had contact charge and although she huffs and puffs and vocalizes that she wants some space, she hasn’t shown aggression toward people,” said Hunt.

“I think it was just that the dog was the main attractant.”

Hunt said Parks plans to fit bear 148 with another collar – either VHF or satellite – because she no longer has a functioning collar. A date has not yet been set to capture and collar her.

With a tracking collar, Hunt said, resource conservation officers would be able to better manage 148 when she’s around developed areas.

“We want to make sure she’s staying out of built-up areas and make sure she’s not exposed to food, and if we have a better sense of where she’s travelling, we can better do that,” he said.

Hunt said grizzly bear 148, like her mother bear 64, is a very important bear because she’s figured out how to make a living in this busy and complex landscape.

If she weren’t here, one or more bears would be using the same habitat.

“Her tolerance to live with people makes her a very safe bear to live with,” said Hunt. “If there were two or three bears, more wary and not as tolerant, it could be very dangerous. She was trained by her mother to safely live in this niche.”

Meanwhile, Campbell acknowledges the group made a mistake in not carrying bear spray.

“The thing we want people to know is that no matter if you’re going on a little hike, always carry bear spray,” he said. “We didn’t and that was a big mistake. We learned our lesson.”

Hunt said he can’t stress enough the importance of carrying bear spray, having it handy and within reach and knowing how to use it. Each person in the group should carry bear spray.

He said dogs must be kept on leash at all times, and notes Parks Canada encourages people to consider leaving their dogs at home. People are also asked to travel in groups and make lots of noise.

“We can’t emphasize enough just how important it is to get the word out to people to travel safely,” said Hunt. “We’re really asking for visitors and residents to support us in following simple bear guidelines.”

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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