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Bumper berry crop draws bears to valley bottoms in Bow Valley, K-Country

A bluff bear charge has forced closure of a paved bike trail in K-Country. Several other warnings and closures are in place as bears feast on a near-bumper buffaloberry crop.
Bear 152 berries
A bear in a buffaloberry patch in Kananaskis Country. The berries are in important local food source for grizzly and black bears each fall. RMO FILE PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – A bear that bluff charged a cyclist, coupled with several other bruins feeding on ripe buffaloberries, has led to the closure of the Bill Milne paved bike path in Kananaskis Country.

While details of the bear encounter are not yet known, the closure that went into effect late Wednesday (July 29) applies to the entire length of the 9.7-kilometre trail from Kananaskis Village to Wedge Pond day use area.

Nick de Ruyter, program director for Bow Valley WildSmart, said there are many bear closures and warnings throughout the Bow Valley and in Kananaskis Country that must be respected.

“Bears are going to have their heads down feeding on berries and this is go-time for them for packing on the pounds and eating those berries,” he said, noting bears can be very defensive of their berry bushes if surprised.

“They will be focused on eating those berries and not paying as much attention to what’s going on around them, so we really need to be proactive and make lots of noise so we don’t surprise them.”

Buffaloberries are a critical calorie-rich food source for bears, and they’ll eat up to 200,000 berries a day. Focused with their heads down, they can also eat for up to 20 hours a day

The berries are often found in sunny areas along trails, roads, campgrounds and recreation areas.

De Ruyter said large numbers of trail users, coupled with a near-bumper berry crop this season throughout the Bow Valley and K-Country, means increased encounters between people and bears can be expected.

“Up until this stage, they’ve been eating lots of dandelions and grasses and roots and things like that and this is the key time for them to eat those berries,” he said.

“They need to get some fat for the winter so they can survive hibernation, so that they can reproduce successfully so it’s important we give them space."

To avoid a surprise encounter with a bear, de Ruyter said people must make plenty of noise and be aware of their surroundings by looking and listening for bear signs, including bear scat, which looks like strawberry jam because of the red berries at this time of year.

He said people can help reduce the risk by staying out of closed areas, considering not travelling in areas where there is a bear warning in place, travelling in groups, keeping pets on a leash and carrying bear spray.

“For people that are trail running or mountain biking, they really need to make noise and slow down when they get to hills, when they’re coming around blind corners or areas with thick vegetation and poor sight lines,” he said.

"We want to minimize the risk of those surprise encounters because those are the most common ones during berry season.”

Bear spray has also been proven as an effective tool in thwarting bear attacks, including surprise encounters with bears here in the Bow Valley.

De Ruyter said ideally every person in a group would carry bear spray, noting that people may become separated, the can may not work for whatever reason, or someone can’t get the spray out in time.

“It is the most effective way of deterring a bear at close range, as long as you have it easily accessible on a hip holster, or a chest holster or scat belt,” de Ruyter said.

“With those surprise encounters, we need to be able to get that bear spray out in under three seconds, so do not keep it in your backpack because you will not have time.”

Spraying a bear in the face can teach that animal a life lesson, said de Ruyter.

“That can teach a bear it’s not OK to approach humans, which in the long run will also prolong that bear’s life,” he said.

“If they learn to stay away from humans, they’ll probably live longer. More often than not, it’s the animal that pays the price by getting relocated or destroyed.”

Meanwhile, many trails, day use areas and picnic sites in the Bow Valley and Kananaskis Country continue to be packed with people, resulting in numerous bear sightings and copious amounts of garbage and waste left behind by irresponsible visitors.

De Ruyter said people need to pick up any garbage that has been left behind and ensure it is properly secured to avoid wildlife getting into it.

Being exposed to unnatural food sources such as garbage puts wildlife at risk and increases public safety concerns, he said, which can lead to a bear’s relocation or death.

“It looks like it is going to be a good year for bears in terms of food, but this is also a busy year for people and there’s a lots of people out there,” de Ruyter said.

“We really have to remember not leaving garbage and waste out, which we’re seeing a lot of, and that’s dangerous because garbage and waste is an attractant for bears.”

Among some of the more recent bears warnings are the area around Threepoint Mountain in Kananaskis Country, where a grizzly bear with one cub bluff charged two people – twice – earlier this week.

In addition, a bear warning is in place for Kananaskis Village and surrounding area, including village helipad, Ribbon Creek day use area, Kovach Pond day use area and Troll Falls trailhead because several bears are feeding on berries.

There’s also a bear warning in Bow Valley Provincial Park where there have been sightings of black bears with cubs.

Check out Bow Valley WildSmart's online resources, such as the Bear Report and Trail Closures and Warnings. The group has also produced a video with subtitles in 10 languages about how to property use bear spray.

“They are all good resource to use at this time of year,” de Ruyter said.

Please report all bear sightings in K-Country immediately to 403-591-7755 and in Banff National Park to 403-762-1470.


About the Author: Cathy Ellis

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