Don't feed wildlife, Alberta experts plead, after cases of food-conditioned wolves and bears in Banff
'It's very difficult for us to manage these animals properly if they're getting food rewards from visitors'
After years educating the public about the dangers of leaving out food or garbage around wild animals, it appears some still aren't getting the message.
Recent cases involving food-conditioned wolves and a black bear in Banff National Park have prompted wildlife experts to ramp up that message.
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Bill Hunt, a resource conservation manager in Banff, says while most visitors follow the rules, they still see some who ignore or just don't understand the risks.
"In terms of food-conditioned wildlife, it's fortunately quite rare, but our concern is it seems to be on the increase," Hunt tells CBC News.
"It's very difficult for us to manage these animals properly if they're getting food rewards from visitors."
Hunt says while they have not observed park visitors feeding animals from their cars, they strongly suspect it is happening based on the behaviour of some animals.
Down the highway, Kananaskis Country park ecologist John Paczkowski says they see a couple of cases of food-conditioned animals in Alberta parks each year.
"There's people who just don't realize they're doing something wrong," Paczkowski explained.
"I think they're crossing that line with the wildlife and the wildlife is the one that suffers."
Paczkowski says while the province has posted signs widely, it's impossible to reach everyone, especially when many visitors are from other countries.
"What's really frustrating is people don't even realize that they're part of the problem," he said.
"They might just be throwing a bit of garbage out of the vehicle or they might be throwing a potato chip to something, but we need to make it clear feeding any wildlife, whether it's a ground squirrel or a grizzly bear, whether it's a potato chip or a steak, is unacceptable."
Tyler McClure with Canmore-based Wildsmart says the region's popularity poses some serious communication challenges about food and wildlife.
"As we see more and more people coming into the valley, coming from farther afield, we might start seeing this be more of an issue if we don't work to spread these message," McClure said.
Andrianna Jobin and her husband drove from San Francisco to camp near Tunnel Mountain.
She says there are lots of campers who "get it" but some unfortunately don't.
"If somebody were feeding wildlife, I would be a bit angry about that," Jobin said.
"We've been very careful when we go to bed at night, you know, putting away all the food and not walking away from the campsite with a bunch of stuff out, or anything like that."
Parks staff say they will continue to educate the public, enforce the rules and find ways to get the mountain community to help spread the word.
Feeding wildlife in a national park carries a maximum fine of $25,000.
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