Days after a deadly grizzly attack in Banff National Park, Alberta Parks officials have issued a closure of several popular mountain biking trails west of Bragg Creek due to bear activity.
According to the closure notice, the Jean Guy on the Rocks, Toothless, SLF and Shattered mountain bike trails are all closed down due to a black bear in the area that has been spotted feeding on carcasses.
"[The] closure includes each trail in its entirety. Does not include Family Guy Trail," the notice stated.
Parks officials noted that although an advisory is in place for this area, bears can be encountered anywhere in the Kananaskis Region at any time.
Kim Titchener Owner and President of Bear Safety & More Inc., an Alberta-based organization that provides wildlife safety training and education, said that mountain biking in particular can pose a higher risk of a bear encounter.
"With COVID-19, we saw a big surge of people getting into recreation, getting into camping, and hiking," she said. "Mountain biking became a really popular sport that is a higher risk activity for bear encounters. There's more people out there [and] we're going to see more attacks by large carnivores. It's not something that's going to go away and I think that if you are a person who wants to go outdoors, learn about this stuff before you head out there."
Titchener said that there are many things people can do that will reduce the risk of a bear encounter, and this includes making lots of noise when out on a trail.
"Go out in the group, we don't see bear attacks in groups of four or more," she advised. "If you have children with you, keep them together, never leave children unsupervised."
She underlined that many bear attacks are related to dogs. She said that if people are bringing pets, they should be on a leash and if a dog is reactive, it's best to keep them at home.
"A lot of the attacks that we're seeing are related to dogs being off-leash, running up to bears or other carnivores and then that they're getting defensive. The bear is then running after the dog, the dog runs back to the humans, and then the people get attacked. I know people think their dogs going to help them, but they're actually a major hindrance and a major cause of their attacks in Canada and the United States."
Looking for signs of bear activity is also important, including bear tracks, and scat, as well as seeing dead animals or birds flying over.
"This is a sign there might be a carcass in the area; you don't want to walk up on a bear feeding on a carcass, you want to back away, give it space. Always carry bear spray where it is physically on your body and not in your backpack or in your water bottle holder."
The mountain bike trail closure comes days after two people were killed in Banff National Park following an encounter with a grizzly bear.
According to Parks Canada, at approximately 8 p.m. on Friday, September 29, Parks Canada Dispatch in Banff National Park received an alert from an inReach/GPS device indicating a bear attack. The alert location originated from within Banff National Park, in the Red Deer River Valley, west of Ya Ha Tinda Ranch.
Parks Canada immediately mobilized a Wildlife Human Attack Response Team whose members are specially trained in responding to wildlife attacks. Weather conditions at the time did not allow for helicopter use, and the response team travelled through the night to the location by ground.
The response team arrived on-site at 1 a.m. and discovered two deceased individuals. While in the area, the response team encountered a grizzly bear that displayed aggressive behaviour, leading Parks Canada staff to euthanize the bear on-site to ensure public safety.
Sundre RCMP arrived at 5 a.m. to assist, and the victims were transported to Sundre.
"This is a tragic incident, and Parks Canada wishes to express its sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims," Parks officials stated.
An area closure is still in effect for the Red Deer and Panther valleys. The closure is from Snow Creek Summit east to the National Park boundary, and north to Shale Pass. According to the Parks Canada website, it is due to a 'grizzly bear in the area.'
The deadly grizzly attack is one of several human-bear encounters that have occurred in recent months.
Days before the deadly grizzly attack, the Town of Banff stated that both a grizzly and a black bear had been frequenting the town.
"A large, mature grizzly bear has been feeding on crab apples in residential yards in the town of Banff, and bluff charging people in the area. A black bear has also been feeding on berries in a mountain ash tree in a hotel grounds just northeast of town," the Town stated on its website.
With a recent bylaw change within the town of Banff, municipal enforcement officers now have the authority to issue an order to remove a tree that has proven to attract bears to feed on its fruit.
Michael Hay, Manager of Environment for the Town of Banff underlined that the town has a program to pay for the full costs of removing fruit trees on private property and replacing them with a non-fruit-bearing tree. He also alluded to previous human-bear encounters which saw one bear relocated in 2017 due to contact with people, while another was later shot and killed by a hunter.
“We encourage all Banff homeowners to remove their fruit trees to help protect our local bear population and prevent potentially dangerous wildlife encounters,” Hay said.
The Town added that while Parks Canada has removed berry shrubs on the edges of town, many homeowners are unaware of the problem their fruit trees are causing.
Earlier last week, a bear warning was placed into effect for Tent Ridge Loop Trail in Kananaskis Country. The closure was due to a surprise encounter with a grizzly bear that occurred on the trail, park officials stated.
In mid-September, multiple grizzly bears frequenting a hiking trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park also prompted a closure notice.
At the end of August, a closure notice was also put into effect at the Troll Falls hiking trail after hikers had a surprise encounter with a black bear.
In late July, an individual suffered minor injuries after a surprise encounter with a black bear. That encounter also prompted a trail closure.
Titchener added that 14 per cent of grizzly bear attacks across the globe result in fatalities, adding that the vast majority of attacks are defensive.