BANFF – The relocation and subsequent premature death of iconic grizzly bear 148 in 2017 set off a storm of sadness, anger and frustration among residents in Banff and Canmore
The five-year-old grizzly bear, who spent 90 per cent of her time in Banff National Park, but began venturing into the unprotected lands of Canmore more often in the last two summers of her life, had been harassed by dogs repeatedly.
Following several encounters with joggers, bikers, hikers and people with dogs in a heavily used area on the south side of the Bow Valley, she was relocated out of Canmore more than 500 kilometres away to an area near Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park.
Within months, the famous bear was shot by a trophy hunter near McBride, British Columbia.
“There was a huge sense of outrage at the time – she had just been trying to go about her life here,” said Colleen Campbell, a bear researcher and board member of Bow Valley Naturalists.
“Bear 148 was harassed by dogs, she was harassed by people wanting to take her picture and there were many people, including locals, who didn’t feel a need to pay attention to the restrictions that had been put in place for her protection.”
Following bear 148’s death, a task force was struck to find a better path forward for human-wildlife co-existence in the Bow Valley, which culminated in a report with 28 recommendations.
The municipalities of Banff and Canmore have now launched a bold new education campaign, which includes pictures of dogs wrapped in hot dog buns as cougar bait, and will involve other topical campaigns identified at KeepWildlifeAlive.ca.
The campaign kicked off with messaging on the importance of keeping dogs on leash everywhere and at all times, except when in private enclosed yards or in designated dog parks.
“Our education campaign is designed to shock and grab attention,” said Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen, who was co-chair of the Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence committee.
“There are still long-time residents who are complacent about protecting wildlife; there are still people who let their dogs roam off leash… In Banff, there’s wildlife and there’s humans, and one of us should know better.”
The Town of Banff has set an ambitious goal of zero human conflicts with large carnivores in the townsite as well as zero wildlife relocations or destructions as a result of irresponsible human behaviour.
Off-leash dogs can trigger aggressive behaviour in bears, coyotes, cougars and elk. A dog running loose may bring back an agitated animal to the dog owner or other people nearby, resulting in an attack.
Wildlife can take advantage of a resident momentarily failing to leash their pet. As recently as January this year, cougars were reported by several dog-walkers in town, and while there was one up close encounter, luckily the leashed pets did not lead to conflict.
“Banff National Park is home to wildlife like bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves, and they are always on the lookout for food. If provided an easy meal – like a wandering dog – carnivores will keep coming into town,” said Mayor Sorensen said.
“When they do, they put themselves at risk because they could be relocated or even euthanized if they get into conflict with humans. That’s a tragedy and one we can prevent,” she added.
“Animal instinct is no match for human carelessness. Banff residents have a responsibility to prevent conflict with wildlife because we are guests in the national park and we must protect the inhabitants that make this place special.”
Campbell, who lives in Canmore, said she is impressed with the bold education campaign from both municipalities, noting even the most obedient dogs may harass wildlife.
“I think it has to be almost pushy and it has to be directed to locals as much as visitors, because locals have a sense of privilege,” she said.
“It is a privilege you live here, but you don’t get privileges because your dog is well behaved. Our privilege of living here here comes with big responsibilities of looking out for wildlife.”
In Banff, municipal enforcement officers plan to hand out leashes to some residents with dogs on leash as a thank you for keeping wildlife safe, as well as to some dog owners who may have forgotten their dog leash.
The Town of Banff is also building a new fenced off-leash dog park at the Banff recreation grounds this summer as one element of a multi-year renewal of the recreation area, which includes $3.2 million in spending for 2021.
The dog park is scheduled to to open in September. The existing dog park is located at the north end of town Banff’s industrial compound.
“I am really happy to see this dog park finally being added so residents on the south side of Banff have a safe place to let their dogs play with other dogs and run and chase, only minutes from their homes,” said Sorensen.
The decision to relocate bear 148, who was considered vital to the local, slowly reproducing population of about 60 grizzly bears, was a highly controversial one.
Local staff with three provincial government agencies made a consensus decision to close a large chunk of land on the south side of the valley near Quarry Lake and the power line to better manage 148 and reduce the risk of someone getting hurt.
However, that decision by local staff from both Operations and Parks divisions of Alberta Environment and Parks, and Fish and Wildlife, was reversed. An order came down from higher-ranking officials beyond the regional level to relocate bear 148.
To report carnivores in Banff, call 403-762-1470, or in Canmore, call 403-591-7755.
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