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Startled grizzly bear bluff-charges cyclist

“A bear came running off the side of the road and charged towards him, stopping at about 10 metres."
20210726 Grizzly Bear 0197
A grizzly bear in Kananaskis Country last summer. RMO FILE PHOTO

KANANASKIS – A grizzly bear bluff-charged a cyclist in Kananaskis Country last week, prompting the province to issue a bear warning for a portion of Highway 40 currently closed to vehicles.

A cyclist who lives in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park was about 2.5 kilometres south of the winter gate closure – a popular spot for early-season cycling – when he was charged by a grizzly bear last Thursday evening (May 12) in what wildlife officials suspect was a surprise encounter.

“A bear came running off the side of the road and charged towards him, stopping at about 10 metres,” said John Paczkowski, an ecologist with Alberta Parks in Kananaskis Country.  “Then both parties retreated.”

The bear is known to Alberta Parks and is a four-year-old female who was fitted with a GPS collar in July 2020.

Wildlife officials were quick to investigate after getting the call. A bear warning was issued, which will remain in place until further notice.

“There was no sign of cubs, no sign of a carcass, so it could have been a surprise startle encounter and the bear decided to charge,” said Paczkowski.

“Highway 40 is still largely snow covered in places so there’s early season biking activity and it’s a bit of a surprise for bears and other wildlife that are in the area. I assume it was just a surprise encounter.”

This young female bear spends a fair amount of time around facilities and people in Kananaskis Country, which had a record 5.4 million visitors in 2020 and 5.1 million in 2021.

“This is a bear that’s young enough that we’re just starting to get to know her personality,” said Paczkowski.

“We have no record of her ever showing any aggressive behaviour towards humans.”

Alberta Parks encourages cyclists to pay extra attention, including along the Highway 40 corridor.

Highway 40 from Peter Lougheed Provincial Park to Highwood House junction is closed to vehicles every year from Dec. 1 to June 14.

“It’s a popular cycling spot while the highway is closed, but it’s a popular spot for grizzly bears to live and be,” said Paczkowski.

“Travelling swiftly and silently in that kind of habitat, you might surprise bears that are feeding near or on the roadside.”

Cyclists are encouraged to not wear earbuds, to make lots of noise and carry bear spray.

“You’re travelling faster and that means your time to respond to a short range bear encounter is diminished,” said Paczkowski.

“So you have to be extra cautious, extra prepared, and still make noise when you’re biking.”

In Banff National Park, all trails in the Spray Valley from the first foot bridge across the Spray River, including the Spray River loop trail (Spray River East and Spray River West), the Sp6 campground and the Goat Creek trail to the national park boundary with Spray Valley provincial park are closed until further notice.

"A grizzly bear is feeding on an elk carcass in the area," states the closure notice issued May 16.

In neighbouring Canmore, there have been several bear sightings in and around the edge of the community.

A female grizzly bear with two cubs was hanging out in the valley bottom for about 10 days before moving away.

“They just left the building so to speak,” said Paczkowski. “Sunday morning I had checked the GPS and she had moved off.”

Paczkowski said there are quite a few black bears feeding on early season vegetation and ants.

“There’s not much for groceries for a bear out there right now so they’re just eating what they can,” he said.

To that end, residents are reminded to securely store food and other attractants, including dog food.

Canmore’s seasonal ban on bird feeders also came into effect on April 1.

“It’s bear season, it’s on, and it’s time for us all to do our part to keep your neighbours and the bears safe,” said Paczkowski.

Please report all bear sightings in K-Country immediately to 403-591-7755.