The numbers tell a dramatic tale.
Parks Canada’s human-wildlife coexistence staff have responded to more than 300 incidents involving bears in town so far in 2023.
That is a high trampoline bounce in frequency when compared to the approximately 90 incidents that occurred in 2021.
Bears continue to be drawn in by the fruit on non-native trees and other yard attractants including bird feeders and compost. Approximately a dozen bears have been lured in as a result over the summer.
“They will be very shortly starting to think about where to go hole up for the winter,” said Dave Argument, resource conservation manager in Jasper National Park. “The weather we’re getting now this week will just help speed that along.”
The persistent presence of bears in town raises serious safety concerns for Jasper’s human inhabitants and visitors.
Many of these incidents took place with bears feeding in trees near schools, daycares and playgrounds. There have been some surprise encounters in alleys and elsewhere and other occurrences of bears bluff-charging dogs and people.
Last week, there was another incident with a black bear mama and cub feasting on fruit in the middle of town.
“They become increasingly difficult to manage, to move out of town when we still insist on having this very significant food attractant in town,” Argument said.
“Our standard hazing efforts may move along a bear in the short term, but as soon as we let that pressure off or need to go deal with another incident, often those bears just turn around and squirt back into town from another access point because the draw of that food is just so intense.”
A few weeks ago, a grizzly bear was on the outskirts of the western end of town.
“They’re moving around the landscape a little more again,” Argument said. “We haven’t seen many grizzlies since late spring in the vicinity of town.”
Outside of the townsite, the bears are also moving around the landscape. On Oct. 15, a grizzly mama and its two yearling cubs were frequenting the Old Fort Point area. The mama bluff-charged a hiker, prompting a bear warning to be put into effect for Old Fort Point Loop. The warning affects Trail 1 and 1a, as well as Trail 7 and 7a.
“They’re digging after roots here for food,” Argument said. “That bear has been seen a number of times with their cubs between the golf course and Old Fort Point. She’s moving between the two of them. It’s not uncommon at this time of year.”
Argument said that bluff-charge behaviour is when the bear feels uncomfortable. It charges for a short distance as a way of simply trying to offer a warning to whoever it perceives as a threat to give it space and stay away.
People should take extra caution when hiking in that area going up to the Valley of the Five Lakes trailhead. That means making noise, travelling in groups and carrying bear spray.
Argument encouraged people to rethink whether they want to take their dogs with them on those walks as well.
“We’ve seen an uptick recently in a number of bear incidents related to dogs.”
He added that the message about residents’ removing their fruit trees (or placing barriers to them) bears repeating. In the four-kilometre span of the Jasper townsite, there are still approximately 900 non-native fruit trees.
Several communities throughout Alberta and British Columbia have been experiencing similar problems. This has left officials talking seriously about taking extra public safety measures with the focus on removing the attractants.
This is for the bears’ well-being as much as for people’s, Argument said.
In late August, a black bear mama and its young-of-year cub were caught in a family trap within the Jasper townsite and relocated to the Devona area. More than a month later, the mother returned alone.
Parks officials looked at the data from her tracking collar, revealing that the bear travelled hundreds of kilometres across northern Jasper and out into British Columbia. It somehow lost its cub before returning to Jasper.
“Because of relocation, the bear faced a stress-filled journey at a critical time of year, and her cub likely died in the process,” Argument said.
“This is one example of why relocation is not the right tool for the current situation in the town of Jasper. Relocation also risks exporting a bear that habitually enters residential areas to another jurisdiction.”
During 2022 and 2023, nine black bears in total were relocated from the townsite and at least three returned.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 27, 2023 at 06:00