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Grizzly bear chases cyclist in K-Country, prompts warning

KANANASKIS – A grizzly bear that charged at a cyclist along the Smith Dorrien Highway near Buller Pond has prompted Alberta Parks to issue a warning for the area.
20210726 Grizzly Bear 0197
A mother grizzly bear feasts on buffaloberries, while her three cubs play in the bushes along the side of Smith Dorrien Trail in Spray Valley Provincial Park in late July. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

KANANASKIS – A grizzly bear that charged at a cyclist along the Smith Dorrien Highway near Buller Pond prompted Alberta Parks to issue a warning for the area.

Officials with Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) said the cyclist was travelling south on the gravel road in Spray Lakes Provincial Park last week when he heard a thumping and huffing sound behind him.

“He looked over his shoulder and saw a grizzly bear running behind him at close range – within two metres,” said Greg Part, a spokesperson for AEP.

“The cyclist sprinted on his bike and used a downhill section to gain distance. The bear gave up the chase and retreated into the woods.”

The bear warning applies to the portion of Spray Lakes Road, also known as the Smith Dorrien Trail or Highway 742, to two kilometres south and north of the day-use area, including the day-use area.

There have been no additional reports since the Aug. 15 incident.

While in bear country, mountain bikers and road bikers are reminded to be aware of their surroundings at all times and to carry bear spray that is readily accessible in case of a bear encounter.

Additional tips include slowing down when visibility is poor, making noise, looking for signs of bears like scat and tracks, watching for bears foraging on berries close to trails and roads, giving bears space, and never getting between a sow and her cubs.

Educators with Bow Valley WildSmart say higher speeds while road or mountain biking can increase the probability of a surprise bear encounter.

“The fact is that most cyclists are fast and quiet, and when you’re quick and quiet, that’s a potential for a disaster, for running into bears,” said Nick de Ruyter, WildSmart’s program director.

“You don’t want to surprise wildlife, particularly bears, and by doing these things like making noise, you’re not necessarily preventing those encounters, but you’re reducing the chance of surprising a bear.”

Bluff charges can occur when bears are surprised and people get too close them; however, AEP had no information on what may have prompted the bear to give chase in this particular incident.

“Obviously, we don’t know the exact reason for this one, but most of the time, it’s because bears are surprised,” de Ruyter said.

“They may also be protecting cubs, or maybe there’s a food source, whether it’s a berry bush or a carcass. When bears are acting aggressive or bluff charge, it’s for a reason.”

A mountain biker himself, de Ruyter advises mountain bikers to keep their heads up and to be aware of their surroundings.

“When you’re going so quickly, you’re focused on the trail in front of you because you don’t want to fall and you want to stay on the trail,” he said.

“But when you’re focused just in front of you, you maybe don’t pay as much attention to what’s alongside the trail – where bears may be feeding on berries – or behind you.”

Alberta Parks asks that all bear sightings be reported to Kananaskis Country emergency services 403-591-7755, especially close encounters.