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Avoiding attracting bears?

Ottawa, Canada
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Avoiding attracting bears?

This is probably a stupid question, but with all of the bears in the parks, how is it that people are encouraged to pack picnic lunches for their hikes with no fear of attracting bears? Also, some of the resorts have barbecues for guests' use and I have the same question about that. Wouldn't the smell of food cooking attract the bears to visit where they should not?

My vacation isn't until September, but I have thought of this from time to time, and well, I just had to ask. That said, I'm not terribly afraid, just cautiously curious.

Calgary, Canada
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1. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

Interesting questions. I don't pretend to be a bear expert - not even close - but I am somewhat familiar with the main guidelines on preventing bear problems.

Bears are not all that common in the parks, unless they are attracted to a spot by a long-term food source. That could be the Alaska salmon run (not an issue in the Rockies!), a good berry crop, a bird feeder, dog food, or garbage. That is why parks residents can be fined if they put out bird feeders, leave dog food outdoors, or fail to put their garbage out in the parks-supplied bear-proof garbage containers. In some campgrounds, Parks Canada requires that food be stored in car trunks, hard-sided RVs, or campground storage lockers, except when you're actually cooking or eating: pc.gc.ca/pn-np/…og-bm7a.aspx

This is a prudent practice even if you're not in a campground that requires it.

Hikers have to eat (and bears' noses are so sensitive that they can smell food in most containers, including sealed hard plastic containers), so it's not practical to tell people to hike without a lunch. But you can avoid using strongly-scented shampoos and perfumes, especially if you're going to sleep in a tent. And in areas which are known to have a high density of bears, safety restrictions may be imposed on hikers by Parks Canada, such as staying in a tight group of four (bear attacks on groups of four or more are incredibly rare compared to other bear attacks, which are incredibly rare to start with), or carrying bear spray. Of course, if you're really concerned about bears, you may adopt these precautions voluntarily for other trails, but many trails are so busy that it's not a concern.

Edited: 17 June 2012, 02:26
Jasper, Canada
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2. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

It's a very good question, actually.

Bears are normally wary of humans and would normally avoid people or the resorts. The townsites in the national parks are also full of possible bear attractants - improperly stored garbage, fruit trees, bird feeders, compost bins, gardens etc. but bears are not commonly seen in town. It's usually only when something unusual happens, like a late frost in the spring that kills off the buffalo berry blooms so that no berries form (their major food source in summer/fall), and then they get desperate and will come wandering into town looking for food.

However, if bears become "habituated" to people - that is, if they learn that there are easy food sources around human areas - they may become bolder and repeatedly come looking for food. The park wardens will usually try live trapping and relocating, but that is not always possible (and that often doesn't work out very well for the bear; either they wind up in a territorial fight with another bear or often, they head right back for town). Then they are usually destroyed, because they become a public safety hazard. That's why "a fed bear is a dead bear".

Jasper, Canada
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3. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

*snap* ... was writing at the same time as Country_Wife. :)

Actually, I don't know about Banff specifically, but here in Jasper, there are no bans on bird feeders or compost bins. I know that these are not allowed by the town of Canmore; they have a bylaw forbidding them. Jasper residents are encouraged to plant indiginous plants, and not fruit trees, but there is no ban on those either. We bought our house with quite a large type of cherry tree in our front yard, and about four years ago, when there was a late spring frost like I wrote about above, and a general failure of the buffalo berries later that summer, we did have a bear that came around our neighbourhood, including climbing into our tree several times in broad daylight. It was a juvenile bear, probably on its own for the first time (sometimes they tend to be bolder & more curious ... or more desperate because they don't have a territory of their own) but was wily enough to avoid the trap the wardens set for it (they use a big cage type of trap with bait inside). After repeated incursions into open garages for garbage (and my neighbours cartons of fruit brought in from the Okanagan) and other similar antics around town for close to a week, it wound up being shot. :(

I forget the actual slogan Parks Canada is using but they require a bare campsite (they use a play-on-words: bare/bear). All food and cooking equipment has to be put away securely (either in a vehicle or special bear-proof lockers, for the walk-in sites), and campers can be tickets for non-compliance. Backcountry campsites have "bear poles" - a device that allows you to raise your food and other attractants up high off the ground, dangling out of their reach.

Ottawa, Canada
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4. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

Thanks for the replies, and for not laughing at me. :) That is way too sad about the bear that had to be destroyed, krp329. I sure hope that the berries are good this year, and that the bears thrive, without bothering their human neighbours.

I am beyond impressed that the Alberta National Parks are able to give us such wonderful opportunities to see bears in their natural habitats, while enabling the bears to carry on without life threatening encounters with humans. I hope I'm fortunate enough to see one as long as it's not too up close and personal.

Jasper, Canada
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5. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

Human-caused mortality is significant, Doe07 ... not just directly, as in bears that are shot because of safety or the nuisance factor, but also on the roads and the train tracks. If you are a facebook user, you might be interested in this page:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Save-Banffs-Wildlife/133963200015094

Calgary, Canada
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6. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

Krp329, You're right, it must have been Canmore that I was thinking of with respect to the bird feeder ban. I also came across this page on removing wildlife attractants in the Bow Valley, which I found fairly interesting:

wildsmart.ca/programs/attractant_management.…

Ottawa, Canada
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7. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

krp329, that absolutely broke my heart. I read a number of the posts about the wolves, orphaned grizzly cubs, black bears, and more, and while I so admire the folks who post there, it made me realize that although measures are in place to help protect the wildlife, certainly more must be done. They should take some of those posts and make them required reading for anyone getting a national park pass.

I hope you don't mind if I ask whether as residents, you just go about your life without fear of any of the wild animals, while, of course, being mindful of potential encounters? You are in such unique, enviable positions, sharing not just vacation time, but your lives with the wild inhabitants of the park.

Jasper, Canada
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8. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

"... certainly more must be done". You make a good point, Doe07, and in reading that information recently (or maybe it was one of the links to either the Banff or Canmore newspapers; also, photographer John Marriott has a facebook page and a blog with lots of stories about animals in Banff National Park), I hadn't realized that cattle guards (or Texas gates, as some call them) are problematic, in that predators can cross them and access the highway where they then get killed. However, given the recent budget-chopping to the Parks Canada funding and the many staff positions that have been eliminated - and the muzzle that has been imposed on the remaining employees who face losing their jobs if they criticize the cuts or the government - I am not very hopeful that much will be done.

The situation with railway mortality is not just an issue with CP Rail (whose line goes through Banff and Yoho National Parks); it's a huge issue here in Jasper National Park with the CN main line, and CN has not been nearly as pro-active as CP about repairing hopper cars so that grain doesn't spill on the tracks and attract animals. I know a lot of railway employees, and it breaks their hearts to hit an animal. The Jasper Environmental Agency has been relentless in working on this issue and trying to pressure CN and Parks Canada to remedy this, but every time I cross the tracks to go hiking, there is always grain there.

I don't know that we residents go about our lives without fear ... certainly any of us who are active on the trails has stories about wildlife encounters, mostly benign - but not always. For instance, this week's Jasper newspaper has a harrowing story - with a happy ending, thankfully - of yet another attempt by a local wolf pack that has been preying on dogs since last winter -

fitzhugh.ca/newsflash/6272-wolf-encounter-a-…

These trails are literally on the doorstep of many residents here, and many of us use them on a daily basis, walking, running, biking etc. In fact, most of my bear encounters have been on one of those trails, within 1/4 kilometre of the trailhead and my house.

However, it helps to keep the risk in perspective, and knowing more about the critters and their behaviour can go a long way to minimizing the risk, and also knowing how to react when you meet animals on the trail (or even in town).

Statistically speaking though, the most dangerous animals in the parks are not bears or any of the predators - it is elk (also known as wapiti. Some Europeans call "moose" elk, but moose are not seen nearly as often as elk/wapiti). There are more aggressive encounters with them than any other type of animal, and people have been seriously injured (although this is very rare, as are aggressive encounters with predators). Part of the problem is that many visitors don't think of them as wild animals - they see them grazing and think of them almost like farm animals, and then they approach too closely. This time of year is problematic with the elk cows and their newborn calves, and in September/October, during the rut (mating season), the bulls can also be extremely dangerous. (I have seen them charge at cars that got too close.) The townsite is attractive to the elk because most of the predator species avoid it.

I have a friend who came upon a cow and newborn calf on one of the trails near town, out in the open with no trees or rocks to shelter behind, and says she would be dead had she not sprayed the cow with pepper spray (she got it square on the nose at less than ten feet away as it was bearing down on her). I have been chased twice by elk and it is a very scary experience, but I didn't have to resort to spraying either of them.

We had a front-row seat last week, watching wardens "haze" and chase a cow and her calf out of town. The elk were on our neighbours' lawn, and the cow was charging at anyone who walked by. The wardens use a stick, with streamers hanging from the top, that they shake at the elk (it makes the wardens look bigger, and I guess the motion of the streamers spooks the elk) - at first, there was just one warden, and the cow kept charging at him and pounding her hooves on the ground, coming to within a couple of feet of him (he had to keep ducking behind a tree). Two more wardens came, and she tried a few more charges at them, but then wisely decided that she and her little one should skedaddle. They "escorted" her out of town. (Quite something to see three guys running after elk with streamers LOL but those guys are my heroes!!)

Greater Sydney...
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9. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

Great post, krp. I love to hear of experiences such as you have described as it puts my mundane life into some perspective.

Ottawa, Canada
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10. Re: Avoiding attracting bears?

Thank you so much for sharing all of that krp329. Maybe if the Parks Canada staff can't speak up about the cuts, the onus is on the rest of us to voice our displeasure. I certainly won't hesitate to send off a letter voicing my concern.

Did anyone happen to get the elk incident on video? That would be priceless to see!