BOW VALLEY – A mamma bear and her three cubs have been feasting on illegally dumped grain along Highway 1A between Canmore and Exshaw.
Long-term Bow Valley resident Max Wilson came across the blond female bear and her three young ones near Gap Lake siding about 15 kilometres east of Canmore at 8:45 p.m. on Saturday (May 11).
“You don’t dump grain right there on the side of road knowing the bears are out and about – that’s a big concern,” he said, adding the amount of grain was about “two-and-a-half wheelbarrows full.”
“It’s easy food for bears. They have a really good memory for food location, and those bears are going to come back there all the time. A fed bear is a dead bear.”
How the grain ended up there is unclear. It dumped about five metres from Highway 1A and was reported to Alberta Environment and Parks on May 11, which in turn contacted Volker Stevin.
“There was a spill and it’s not completely clear where it originated from, in other words whether it came from CP or whether it was dumped from the highway,” said Jay Honeyman, a human-wildlife conflict specialist with Alberta Parks and Environment.
Honeyman said there have been issues historically with transport trucks illegally dumping grain at pullouts along Highway 1A and the Trans-Canada Highway.
“We believe it to be trucks coming out of Calgary after dumping their main load, and after driving the grains shakes, rattles and rolls as they’re coming west back empty,” said Honeyman.
“At some point, they clean their trucks out further of the grain they didn’t initially dump. They pull over and sweep the truck out of the remaining grain and that results in a lot of grain,” he added.
“It’s a problem because it attracts wildlife, including bears, to the highway and we’ve had a couple of bears killed feeding by the TCH on these illegal dumps.”
Canadian Pacific Railway is looking into the situation.
“CP is investigating to determine the source of a grain pile at Gap siding and is dispatching the vacuum truck to clear it,” said Salem Woodrow, a spokesperson for CP.
Meanwhile, there were two separate reports of bear cubs struck by trains in the area of the grain dump near Gap Lake – one on Thursday (May 9) and the other on Sunday (May 12).
It is unknown whether one of the cubs feeding on the grain on Saturday is the one struck by a train the following day.
“Neither cub was located so we don’t know whether the bear was killed or injured, but it was a cub and a train so…” said Honeyman, noting both train strikes were in the vicinity of the spill.
Wilson fears the bears could end up dead.
He said the location is in a busy area, where CP crews are working, countless vehicles buzz by on the 1A and trains travel through, which puts the bears in a dangerous situation.
“There’s lots of human interaction there and I fear the bears are going to get destroyed,” he said, noting the animals could also be struck and killed by vehicles or trains.
Grain spills, either on the train tracks or roadside, are an unnatural food source for wildlife.
Not only can that lead to an unhappy ending for bears, Honeyman said spilling or dumping grain becomes a safety issue for people driving by who could hit a bear, or for CP crews working in the area.
“You’ve got a bunch of bears feeding on grain, which doesn’t bode well for people or bears,” he said.
Meanwhile, Wilson described the blond female bear and her cubs as “beautiful”, noting they continued to eat the grain despite several cars in the area at the time he photographed them from inside his vehicle.
“There were a couple of motorcycles passing and that’s when the black cub was spooked,” said Wilson, adding that the youngster took off towards the train tracks followed closely by the mamma bear.
“The two blond cubs were still eating, and then another motorcycle passed by and spooked those two and they joined the mom and the black cub. They all went off into the forest.”