Wildlife officials with Alberta Parks say the hiker encountered the grizzly and her cubs up close on the Horseshoe trail system on the front slopes of Grotto Mountain in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday (Oct. 10).
Andy Rees, district conservation officer with Bow Valley Provincial Park, said one of the dogs was off-leash and in front of the hiker, but was followed back to the owner by a grizzly bear protecting her cubs.
“The subject was nipped on the back of the calf and bear spray was deployed,” said Rees. “The bear reacted to that and basically went back away.”
Rees said he believes the hiker sought medical attention, but had no further details. He did not disclose whether the hiker was a man or a woman, or where they were from.
“The hiker was able to walk out after the incident … but was shaken, yes,” he said.
“To come face to face with a grizzly bear is going to be a little traumatizing.”
Rees said there are no plans to trap or relocate the bear at this time, noting the closure from Harvie Heights to the Burnco pit along the 1A Highway is in place to protect people and to give the mamma bear and her cubs some security and space to move.
“This appears to be more of a chance encounter and a defensive attack between a sow grizzly bear and a hiker,” he said.
“Basically, the cubs were with the mamma bear. She kind of sent the cubs on their way and then she basically reacted to the situation that she was in.”
Rees stressed it is illegal to have dogs off leash in Alberta’s protected parks.
“We’re continuing our investigation and we’re looking at the possibility of charges,” he said.
Kim Titchener, president of Bear Safety & More, said she was pleased to hear the hiker had bear spray, noting it’s been proven to save lives and in this case likely prevented more serious injury.
“But it’s also doing the other things that prevent you getting into a negative encounter or getting attacked and that’s why we stress so much to have dogs on leash,” she said.
“I just don’t know what it’s going to take to get this message across to the public.”
Titchener said research shows dogs seem to trigger reactions in bears.
She points to Bear No. 148, a famous female grizzly bear that was eventually shot dead by a hunter in B.C., who had a couple of negative encounters with dogs. In one incident at Mount Norquay, bear 148 followed hikers after being harassed by their dog.
“This had impacts on this bear,” said Titchener.
Colleen Campbell, past president of Bow Valley Naturalists, said it is these types of incidents that can lead to a bear’s demise, unfortunately.
“It could have been way worse for the hiker and it could have been worse for the bear,” she said, noting it was also dangerous for the dog.
Campbell believes people are not getting the message on why dogs must be on leash, or feel they don’t have to pay attention to boundaries set on human behaviour.
“We should be doing everything to ensure access to reasonable habitat is secure for wildlife and we don’t get any extra points because we live here, or we think our dog is well trained,” she said.
Campbell supports higher fines for people caught with off-leash dogs.
“I’ve always said one hell of a good fine – $2,000 for $5,000 – would go a long way in sending a message,” said Campbell.
“It’s time we stop being such a self-centred species.”
Alberta Parks doesn’t have any information on the grizzly involved in the encounter at this time, or if it is the same mamma bear involved in a serious encounter with a runner on the south side of the valley in July of this year.
In that case, Olympic biathlete Emma Lunder believes deploying bear spray saved her life, or prevented serious injury, when a mamma grizzly defending her two cubs throttled towards her from 50 metres away.
“We don’t know what bear this is. There was a report a bear may have had an ear tag, though we’re not sure what number it is,” said Rees, adding that telemetry didn’t pick up any bears in the area.
“When we investigated up at the scene, we were able to gather some samples, so we’re going to be sending those away for DNA analysis to see if we can figure out which bear it is.”
With a cold and snowy fall, Rees said many people might think bears have already gone into hibernation – but that’s not the case.
“The bears are still out there actively feeding and trying to fatten up for winter,” he said.
“Whenever people are out and about, they need to be aware of the potential of running into bears and being aware of the situation around them.”
To avoid a surprise encounter with a bear, Alberta Parks advises: to make plenty of noise and travel in groups; be aware of your surroundings by looking and listening for bears and their signs; keep your pets on a leash and carry bear spray.
The closure applies to the area surrounding Cougar Creek from the Burnco pit area to Harvie Heights until further notice. The following trails are closed: Cougar Creek, Grotto Mountain, Horseshoe Loop, Lady MacDonald, Echo Canyon, Montane Traverse, Johnny’s Trail, Meander Trail, Tidbits Quarry, Harvey Heights Ridge Traverse, Mount Charles Stewart and Outlier.