Banff bears keep tourists, residents on edge
Late-arriving mating season drawing bears closer to towns in search of food
When David McJunkin and a friend set out to ride their bikes to Mexico from Jasper, Alta., they knew it would be an adventure.
But they didn't expect it to arrive before they got out of the province.
On Tuesday, while passing through Banff National Park, McJunkin saw something he'd never seen before: a bear with her cubs.
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Luckily he came prepared with bear spray.
""I have it here at the ready," he said, pulling out his container of the repellent.
Sightings like McJunkin's have led park officials to put larger areas of the park off limits than usual.
They say the longer-than-usual winter has meant grizzly and black bears are getting a late start to mating season, and the need for food is drawing them deeper into developed areas.
Kim Titchener of Wildsmart, a website that teaches people about safety around wild animals, said Tuesday it's been "a very sad start to the season as far as people behaviour, not bear behaviour. We're seeing people getting out of their vehicles, approaching bears, trying to get pictures with their iPhones."
Titchener says people in the area need to be aware of the dangers "because there is a lot of bear activity — bears are breeding now around the townsite of Banff. And it's really important that people are looking around, being aware of their surroundings, keeping their dogs on a leash, travelling with bear spray, carrying it on your body and knowing how to use it."
According to Titchener, the bears are not to blame for the current situation, people are.
"At Goat Creek parking lot two days ago, we had a family of black bears with her cubs, and people had got right out of their cars and surrounded her. Last night, there was a grizzly bear in town site in Banff National Park and a large group of people surrounded that grizzly. He got very stressed. He started huffing and puffing and showing that he did not want them that close."
It's really important that people are … travelling with bear spray, carrying it on your body and knowing how to use it.- Kim Titchener, Bear Safety and More
Most people are heeding the restricted area warnings, wary of the $25,000 fine, but park official Steve Michel says they're now dealing with another issue that could lead to more trouble.
Park employees are patrolling regularly to catch illegal campers, many of whom don't clean up their site and don't store food
properly, creating a magnet for bears.
They want people to keep a healthy distance if they see a bear, not endanger themselves by trying for a closeup photograph with their cellphone.