Skip to content

Parks closes area to protect backcountry grizzly den

BANFF – A denning grizzly bear has forced the closure of a backcountry area near Bow Lake in Banff National Park.
Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 9.42.11 AM

BANFF – A denning grizzly bear has forced the closure of a backcountry area near Bow Lake in Banff National Park.

The closure, which went into effect Monday (April 1), applies to the Hidden Bowl/Jimmy Junior Bowl area after a group of skiers came across a den on Sunday afternoon and spotted what they believed was a grizzly inside.

“They skied past a hole in the snow and thought they saw a bear … the face of a bear,” said Jon Stuart-Smith, a wildlife management specialist for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay. “At that point, they backed off and chose another route around the area.”

The group skied out and called Parks Canada to report the incident. Parks Canada investigated and closed the area the following morning. It’s thought to be a grizzly based on the skiers’ description and den location.

Stuart-Smith said there are a number of bears that use this area, including a pair of juvenile grizzlies that are the offspring of bear 9301, believed to have died of natural causes in 2014.

“We don’t know anything about them in terms of their sex,” he said, noting it’s believed they’re about eight years old.

“It could be one of those bears, but it could also be another bear.”

In winter, grizzly bears spend several months in their dens in an energy-saving state of hibernation, which scientists suggest implies that any disturbance has the potential to have a large cost on the animal.

Research also suggests that there have been occasions when bears have abandoned their dens due to human activity, but Stuart-Smith said that is more of a concern in winter.

“At this point, that’s probably less likely because bears are naturally coming out of their dens,” he said.

“But if someone were to stumble across a den and disturb a bear, it could feel quite threatened by human presence as it was coming out of the den. Thankfully, in this case, the bear didn’t come out of its den.”

Grizzly bear No. 122, a large, dominant male also known as The Boss, was the first bear to emerge from his den in the Bow Valley. Female bears, especially with cubs, emerge later in spring.

“If this bear is female with cubs, she could stick around this den area for another month or so before she disperses,” said Stuart-Smith, noting it’s possible the closure could be in place until May, perhaps early June if that’s the case.

Anyone caught in the closed area could face charges. The maximum penalty in court is $25,000.

In February, a close encounter between a denning grizzly and a group of backcountry skiers prompted the closure of an area of Kananaskis Country to prevent more people disturbing the bear.

The skiers reported a bear came out of the den and came within about one metre of them as they inadvertently skied by the den in the Sarrail Creek drainage below Mount Foch in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.

In November 2015, a famed Scottish climber had a lucky escape after being attacked by a grizzly bear defending its den high on the slopes of Mount Wilson in Banff National Park. Greg Boswell, considered one of the most talented climbers of his generation, was climbing with Britain’s Nick Bullock when the bear attacked him directly above steep cliffs about 2,200 metres up on the 3,261-metre mountain.

Residents and visitors are reminded to carry bear spray and know how to use, travel in groups, make lots of noise and keep dogs on a leash.

In Kananaskis, please report all bear sightings to 403-591-7755. The number to call in Banff is 403-762-1470.

“It’s that time to take all the regular precautions for travelling in bear country,” said Stuart-Smith.