Parks Canada bans wildlife photographers from using radio receivers to locate animals

After suspected cases of photographers using specialized radio receivers to find collared bears, wolves or elk, Parks Canada has banned possession of the devices within three mountain parks in Alberta and British Columbia.

Possession of VHF telemetry devices can now lead to a $25K fine in Banff, Kootenay and Yoho

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official uses telemetry equipment to locate radio collared mountain lions. The equipment has now been banned for public use in Canada's Banff, Kootenay and Yoho national parks after several suspected cases of photographers using them to locate animals, which is considered harassment of wildlife. (Carmen Luna/USFWS)

After suspected cases of photographers using specialized radio receivers to find collared bears, wolves or elk, Parks Canada has banned possession of the devices within three mountain parks in Alberta and British Columbia.

"We've had a few incidents where we've suspected that people, presumably after photos, have been using scanners within their vehicles to locate wildlife," said Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for the Banff Field Unit.

"We just wanted to put this in place to make sure that people understand that that's considered harassing wildlife and is no longer lawful in those parks."

The restrictions apply to Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks and are in effect indefinitely.

Violators can be charged under the National Parks Act and the maximum penalty is $25,000.

Known as telemetry receivers, Hunt said the devices are not the type of thing an ordinary park visitor would typically have, as they are specialized tools capable of tracking wildlife that have been fitted with VHF (very high frequency) transmitters on their collars.

The VHF collars are an older technology — compared to more modern GPS units — but Hunt said they are still around the necks of numerous animals in the mountain parks.

Wolves from the Bow Valley pack are seen using a highway underpass in Alberta in April in this handout photo taken by a remote camera. One is wearing a tracking collar. (Parks Canada/Canadian Press)

Photographing wildlife is a popular and legal activity within Canada's national parks, provided it's done in a manner that doesn't disturb the animals.

Pursuing an animal to photograph can interfere with its critical natural activities, Hunt said, particularly when it comes to wolves, bears and cougars.

"They make a living by being able to successfully hunt or find food," he said.

"If those hunting sequences are interrupted by well-intentioned visitors, that can mean that animal goes without a meal for a day or many days or a week. It's very difficult for them to get those opportunities."

Another example of a collared wolf. This one was seen (without the use of telemetry equipment) walking along a road near the Athabasca River viewpoint in Jasper National Park. (Submitted by Claude Rioux)

No photographers have been charged so far this year with harassing wildlife, Hunt said, but the new restrictions on VHF receivers will make it easier to lay charges in the future.

"Prior to this restricted activity order, the only charge that was available to our enforcement officers would have been harassing wildlife, which is a very serious offence … but to do that, you'd have to prove the connection to the wildlife," he said.

"With this restricted activity order in place, we'd only have to show that they had the telemetry device there for the purpose of pursuing wildlife."