'Stopping and gawking' banned to give bears a break on stretch of Jasper highway
'Interrupts their daily grind ... if people are stopping and gawking at them'
Motorists have been banned from stopping on a 12-kilometre stretch of highway west of Jasper due to high numbers of bears in areas along the roadside.
The no-stopping zone, announced by Parks Canada on Thursday, is intended to protect both animals and people "due to unusually high wildlife activity along Highway 16," said a news release.
Parks Canada spokesperson Steve Young said that activity mainly involves bears that are looking for food at lower elevations.
"There are other wildlife in this area, but in this particular case [the no-stopping zone] is about bears and making sure that they have the room they need to find food," he told CBC News.
"It just interrupts their daily grind as a bear in the park if people are stopping and gawking at them," he said. "We only want [people] to pull over when it's safe to do so in the best of times. This is one of those times when we do need you to help to give them a little more room."
Bear warnings are in effect and restrooms in the area are closed.
It's the first time that Jasper National Park has enacted the measure, though it has been used before in other parks, Young said. In mid-May, Kootenay National Park put a no-stopping zone in place for 15 kilometres along Highway 93.
Late spring affects food source
Jasper has experienced a late spring, which has affected food sources — like buffalo berries — at the subalpine and alpine levels, he said.
As a result, many bears are feeding heavily on spring vegetation and dandelions along the affected stretch of Highway 16, which starts about four kilometres west of the Jasper townsite, near the pullout for the Pipeline Ski Trail.
The combination of narrow shoulders, blind corners and multiple grizzlies and black bears foraging for food is in unsafe combination, the news release said. The no-stopping zone will prevent traffic congestion that is dangerous for both bears and people.
"We call it short term," Young said when asked how long the measure is expected to remain in place. "It's really up to the bears. If they start heading up to the subalpine and alpine, then obviously we'll lift it."
The no-stopping zone will be patrolled by Parks Canada and the RCMP, with penalties ranging from a $115 ticket to a court appearance with a maximum fine of $25,000. Vehicles legally required to conduct brake checks can continue to do so.
Jasper National Park maintains an online bear report that is updated weekly.