CANMORE – Attempts to trap a grizzly bear making its rounds through a residential neighbourhood on the north side of Canmore over the past week have been unsuccessful, prompting Alberta Fish and Wildlife to remove the traps for now.
In addition, two other bear traps set up by Alberta Parks have been removed from the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Officials with Alberta Parks say the traps at the Nordic Centre, combined with trail closures, were set up June 15 following two reports of a grizzly bear bluff-charging people at the Bill Warren training centre and mine meadow June 11 and 12 and ahead of the 2022 Canada Cup Canmore mountain bike races June 16-19.
“They weren’t successful in trapping the bear or bears… we don’t know whether the bluff-charges were the same bear or different bears, but we’re assuming it was the same bear,” said Trevor Poth, Alberta Parks’ area manager of specialized facilities and trails in the Kananaskis region. “As of yesterday, we decided to close those traps and remove them from the site.”
As a result, a large portion of the closed area that was in place at the Canmore Nordic Centre will reopen at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, including single track trails such as Odyssey, Long Road to Ruin, Orchid and the remainder of EKG.
“We are going to continue with a one-week closure of the areas that are past Odyssey between Odyssey and Banff National Park and then also Georgetown,” said Poth.
“That is a precautionary measure to assess what happens now that we have people back on the landscape. We’ll look at the number of bear reports that we get, certainly any behavioural reports of people who have come across bears, and make decisions from there.”
Provincial wildlife officials estimate there are at least eight grizzly bears in and around Canmore at the moment, primarily feeding on early spring green-up as the heavy snowpack lingers up higher in the mountains.
As for the grizzly bear making the rounds on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway, Fish and Wildlife officers say they haven’t heard of any reports of the bear within residential neighbourhoods within the past two days, noting he was in an area by the off-leash dog park and heliport on Monday.
“We’re hoping he decides to stay out of the townsite, and stay within the green spaces,” said Aaron Szott, a Fish and Wildlife officer who has been part of the trapping effort and keeping an eye on several grizzly bears in and around Canmore.
“We removed all the traps; we weren’t successful in trapping the grizzly bear. I think that’s because he was just working his way through these green spaces and he wasn’t staying in one area for too long.”
The bear is believed to be about three years old and on its own for the first time.
Generally tolerant of people, it has been feasting on grass and dandelions in town because there is not a lot of other habitat available because of the late start to spring and lingering snowpack.
The first trap was set up off Silvertip Trail on June 15 when the bear was in an area by the bike skills park, Our Lady of the Rockies Catholic Church and near the Palliser housing developments.
Another trap was set up in the following days off Benchlands Trail behind the Cougar Point Road neighbourhood, forcing the closure of the trail that parallels the Trans-Canada Highway behind that neighbourhood.
Szott said the grizzly bear had been in that area for at least two mornings in a row feeding on dandelions.
“We set up a trap there just in hopes if he would return…they’re kind of creatures of habit,” he said. “He did not return, however overnight (Sunday) there was a black bear that was caught in the trap and we’ll relocate him out of the Bow Valley.”
The grizzly bear initially showed up in residential neighbourhoods by Cougar Creek last week.
RCMP and Fish and Wildlife had a strong presence patrolling the neighbourhoods the morning of June 15 as children heading to school were encountering the bruin.
At one point, the bear was hanging out in the playground on Moraine Road.
Madelyn Mann, 14, was riding her bike to school when she had a close encounter with the bear of within about four metres.
She said she was on Grotto Road when police officers were alerting everyone of a grizzly bear in the neighbourhood, but they didn’t know exactly where.
“It came running out from behind one of the houses and then slowly walked down Moraine Road,” said Mann, who noted the bear looked scruffy from the recent rain. “It was like four metres away… it kind of went by really fast.”
Mann said she stood still and it wasn’t until after the moment had passed that she had more time to think about her encounter.
“It was scary afterwards,” she said.
Knowing her brother Timmy was about to head to school as well, Mann borrowed a phone from a resident to call home.
“I wanted to let my brother know there was a bear on the street because he was going to bike to school as well,” she said.
Fish and Wildlife were initially alerted after receiving a call on June 15 of the bear bluff-charging an individual near Cougar Creek. The person told Fish and Wildlife officers he had to hide behind a vehicle to escape the encounter.
“Based on our investigation, we believe that both the bear and the individual kind of bumped into each other and surprised each other,” said Szott. “It seemed more of a defensive reaction versus predatory or anything in that terms.”
Several grizzly bears and black bears are being reported daily on both sides of town.
There was a black bear photographed in the grease bin at a local pub, but it is not clear if it is the same black bear that was caught in the trap overnight Sunday and is being shipped out of town.
That trapped bear, however, was previously moved out of town on May 25 to the mountains west of Caroline.
“In that timeframe, he made it back to Canmore,” said Szott. “He’ll be relocated out of the Bow Valley a further distance this time.”
In the Three Sisters neighbourhoods and Peaks of Grassi residential area, there have been several daily reports of grizzly bears eating grass and dandelions in backyards.
On Saturday morning, a grizzly bear was photographed toying with playground equipment at the Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy playground. The week before, a different grizzly bear on the soccer field at OLS forced a school lockdown.
Szott said Fish and Wildlife officers have also been managing a female grizzly bear and her cub west of Canmore close to the Banff National Park east gate, where hordes of people have been getting out of their cars and getting close to the bears.
“She was hanging out towards the highway; people were getting pretty close to her, so we were able to haze her back into the green space to the north,” he said.
According to Szott, the grizzly bears have been tolerant of people.
“They’ve all been eating natural food sources, predominantly eating dandelions here,” he said. “In terms of showing any aggression or habituation towards people, they’ve been pretty tolerant and really focused on their dandelions.”
Had any grizzly bears been captured, they would likely have been relocated out of the area, which has long been considered a death sentence for grizzly bears in many ways.
While the province does not disclose the location of bears, Poth said the plan was to move them to a separate habitat patch if any bears had been caught.
“Because bears are territorial, any kind of relocation option we’re very careful about where we put them because we want the bears to be set up for the highest levels of success and we don’t put them into another bears’ habitat,” he said. “We do have select sites that are pre-identified for potential relocation, but my understanding is it was going to be aways away from the town of Canmore.”
Sarah Elmeligi, a Canmore-based bear researcher, said this spring has been interesting because of the lingering snowpack keeping bears in the valley bottom longer than would normally be the case.
She said the fact that bears are in town eating grass, dandelions or elk calves is a reflection of the lack of habitat available elsewhere.
“The important thing for us to remember as residents is that bears are here because they have no choice, this is the best available habitat at the moment and this habitat comes with a very high cost – Trans-Canada Highway, extremely busy pathways, neighbourhoods, lot of people everywhere,” she said. “Bears do not choose habitat in town if there’s anything else available.”
Elmeligi lives in the Cougar Point Road neighbourhood, where the trail between the highway and homes was closed due to bear activity and one of the traps there.
She said she believes it’s important for residents to embrace being flexible by making different choices on where to recreate or commute to and from work to give bears more space and security at this critical time.
“I had to walk my dog differently, I had to go into town differently, I had to behave differently than I normally would, but what I continually remind myself is that I have choices… but the bears cannot choose differently,” she said. “The reality is it’s only for a few weeks and once the snow melts the bears will go into higher elevations and this is not going to be our reality all summer long.”
Recognizing Fish and Wildlife officers are stretched to the limit, Elmeligi said the ideal would have been strong communications with signs throughout the area warning of bears and closure of the area where the bear was hanging out sooner.
She said the elevated bear activity in town also highlights the need for a human-wildlife coexistence specialist, following the retirement of Jay Honeyman earlier this year.
“I think that what’s happening in and around Canmore really demonstrates the importance and usefulness of that role,” she said.
Elmeligi said Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery plan identifies the need for human-bear coexistence specialists around Alberta in all bear management units.
“Currently there are none employed anywhere in the province. This is a significant gap because communities like Canmore that live in this urban bear habitat interface really need to have somebody to help guide them through coexistence,” she said.
“That could be helping with communications, it could also be helping the community understand the course of action that is being taken, like why traps are set out, where they’re set out, what happens to those bears.”
Fish and Wildlife will keep responding as best they can and ask residents to call the Report a Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800 if there is an event unfolding and a bear is inside the townsite. Other reports can be made to 403-591-7755.
“If we get more calls, or bears start to be a public safety issue within one area, then we would definitely consider trying to put some traps out again," Szott said.
Residents and visitors are reminded to make plenty of noise and travel in groups, be aware of surroundings and look and listen for signs of bears, keep dogs on leash and carry easily-accessible bear spray – and know how to use it.
“I think the message is that whether you’re rollerskating, mountain biking, hiking or running, every person should be carrying bear spray at all times … that is your last line of defence against a really serious encounter,” said Poth. “Make sure you have bear spray whether you’re using a town trail, the Nordic Centre or somewhere really remote. It’s amazing how many people are on our landscape without being prepared for a wildlife encounter.”