A file photo of a black bear eating grass. | Parks Canada/R.Bray photo Parks Canada/Ryan Bray

Park officials are reminding everyone about outdoor safety in Jasper National Park after a negative bear/dog interaction over the weekend that resulted in both animals’ deaths.

A couple visiting on a day trip took their dogs for a walk around Wabasso Lake Trail on April 22.  

The group members were reportedly separated from each other by a short distance and their dogs were off-leash and running back and forth between them. They were within a kilometre from the trailhead on their return to the parking lot when they encountered the bear.

The bear approached the lead hiker from several feet away while their back was turned. That’s when one of the dogs, a 13-kg Sheltie, engaged the bear.

“It sounds like the bear ran off a very short distance and started up a tree before it quickly changed its mind and decided instead to come down and engage the dogs,” said Dave Argument, Jasper National Park resource conservation manager.

The bear quickly had the dog in its mouth as the hikers attempted to deter it with bear spray, even striking the bear’s head multiple times with the can. These actions were ineffective and the bear left the area without releasing the dog.  

Parks officials closed off several areas including Wabasso Lake Trail and the trail between Valley of the Five and Old Fort Point as human-wildlife coexistence staff spent that evening looking for the bear. That search continued through Sunday.

“We deployed a trap at that point, and we were able to locate the bear by mid-afternoon still with the dog’s remains,” Argument said.

“At that point, the decision was made to destroy this bear. The [bear] exhibited the habituation to people. The proximity to the people was just too concerning a behaviour to let this bear persist.”

It was a healthy mature male black bear weighing 92 kgs, and no obvious health concerns. While there has not been a necropsy as yet to further investigate its health, the bear appeared to be in “the prime of his life,” according to Argument.

The incident is still under investigation though no charges have yet been filed.

The Valley of the Five trail has since been reopened while the Wabasso Lake Trail remains closed to allow time for a scent attractant to dissipate. This will likely take a few days.

This is the fourth such incident in the last five years. A dog on a leash was taken from its owners at the Athabasca Falls parking lot in 2018. Last year, a small dog was also killed by a bear at Sunwapta Falls Resort.

The incident serves as a reminder to all people to exercise caution in bear country during “bear season”.

“This is an unfortunate incident for sure. The bear was likely just emerging from hibernation and got himself in trouble right off the bat,” Argument said.  

“The bears are coming out. The first few black bears have started being spotted and the grizzly bears will follow soon. It’s time to get the bear spray out, make sure it’s not expired, and make sure you know how to use it.”

Parks Canada reminds all people to keep all pets under control and on-leash at all times within a national park.  

Bear awareness on trails also means that people should travel in groups and make noise, and always be aware of their surroundings.

Any unusual bear behaviour should be reported to Parks Canada Dispatch at 780-852-6155.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 25, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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