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Wildlife specialists sound alarm on black bear encounters in Canmore

“There’s lots of kids that bike to school using the trail system and on the odd occasion they are bumping into bears. We need parents to remind them to keep their eyes open, make lots of noise and preferably bike in groups.”
Black Bear
A black bear munches on some greenery. RMO FILE PHOTO

CANMORE – Several close encounters between bears and people in neighbourhoods all over Canmore have forced provincial wildlife specialists to urge the community to be on high alert.

Wildlife experts say a group of kids riding from the Cougar Creek area to Lawrence Grassi Middle School encountered a curious and unwary black bear on a trail in the Spring Creek neighbourhood on Monday morning (Sept. 20).

“They got intercepted by a bear and adults had to actually help them to get across the bridge by Spring Creek,” said Jay Honeyman, a human-wildlife conflict specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks.

“There’s lots of kids that bike to school using the trail system and on the odd occasion they are bumping into bears. We need parents to remind them to keep their eyes open, make lots of noise and preferably bike in groups.”

There have been daily reports of black bears in all areas of Canmore, including run-ins with dogs, bluff-charges, bears pooping on porches, eating fruit up trees, and close encounters on many of the town’s busy trails. Police are being called on some occasions.

In one case on Sunday (Sept. 19), a stressed-out black bear rushed at a resident in the Eagle Heights neighbourhood. The man yelled and screamed to scare the bear out of the tree in his yard.

“I don’t know the exact details, but the long and short of it is, the bear closed the distance on him and he had to pepper spray it,” Honeyman said.

“The bottom line is it’s not a good idea to go yelling at bears. No matter how a bear responds, in a developed area it can cause more harm than good.”

Instead, residents and visitors are advised to back away slowly from bears and phone Kananaskis emergency services at 403-591-7755, who will send a wildlife specialist to respond to the situation or advise people accordingly.

The concern with confronting a bear in a residential area or backyard, or acting in a dominant way, is that it could put other people in danger if the panicked bear dashes away, Honeyman said.

“Then we have bears running through neighbourhoods full of people and kids, or if the bears decide to respond by yelling or bluff charging the individual, and if the individual is not prepared, we have a potentially aggressive situation on our hands,” he said.

“Some of these issues are happening in residential areas blocks away from green spaces and corridors and it can be very tricky for a bear to navigate out of that, particularly if they are running … bears aren’t making good decisions when they’re running.”

With the arrival of fall, black bears are being seen all over town on both the north and south sides of the valley in search of an easy meal to fatten up for a long winter’s hibernation.

Because most of the buffaloberry crop has been less than ideal this year, hungry bears are in town looking for other food sources and the main draw seems to be an abundance of fruit trees.

Once bears get into common fruits or berries such as chokecherry, crabapples, dogwood and mountain ash in residential communities, they can become bold and aggressive. This has led to relocation and destruction of bears for public safety reasons over the years.

“We haven’t had to do that yet,” Honeyman said, referring to the most recent spate of encounters.

In a bid to reduce encounters between bears and people, Alberta Environment and Parks and the Town of Canmore encourage residents to pick their fruit or consider chopping down the tree.

The Town of Canmore has a voluntary fruit tree removal incentive program, which covers half the removal cost to a maximum of $300 for homeowners in high priority areas, primarily on the edges of town.

“A lot of the attractants are related to fruit,” Honeyman said, adding bears have also been seen sniffing around recycling and garbage bins. “If you’re interested in getting your tree removed, you should call the Town and talk to them about that.”

Daily reports of bears continue to come in to Alberta Environment and Parks.

“I don’t know how many bears there are, but there’s a lot of bear activity on both the north and south side of the valley,” Honeyman said.