A Canmore, Alta., woman's encounter with a grizzly bear last Saturday has officials at Banff National Park reminding people that bears are awake and to be cautious.
According to Bill Hunt, the resource conservation manager for Banff, the woman was kick-sledding — a form of dog sledding — on the Spray River Trail that runs behind Banff Springs Hotel when she heard the sound of a large animal behind her.
Hunt says that particular area is trackset through most of the winter, which means dogs aren't normally allowed, however, the restrictions were lifted on April 15.
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Upon seeing the bear, the woman gave the signal for her dogs — which hadn't noticed the bear — to speed up. When she looked back, she saw the bear had sped up as well.
"She stopped the sled and made her presence known to the bear by yelling and waving her arms to make sure the bear understood that there was a person associated with the sled and the dogs," Hunt said.
The woman and her dogs were around 600 metres from the parking lot when she first saw the bear. The woman and the bear continued that same dance three or four times before the bear finally broke off shortly before the parking lot, allowing the woman to get to her vehicle safely.
Keep dogs on leash
"Bears will often react curiously or aggressively towards dogs, they interact with wolves and cougars in the wild so they can see dogs as a threat," Hunt said.
"It's one of the reasons we encourage people to definitely keep their dogs on a leash at all times in the park and if travelling in the backcountry to consider not bringing their dogs with them."
The woman was carrying bear spray with her, but she never got close enough to the bear to have to use it.
Hunt said the bear was collared and parks staff believe it was bear #148, a female bear who lives in the area.
The encounter is yet another reminder for backcountry users that bears are awake after winter's hibernation.
Hunt says the best way to keep safe when outdoors is to:
- Make noise.
- Travel in groups.
- Keep your head up, be aware of surroundings.
- Don't wear ear buds.
- Keep dogs on a leash.
Most of the bears in more populated areas of the park are familiar with people, said Hunt, and will try to get off the trail if they hear people coming.
"A lot of these incidents or interactions are linked to people moving quickly or quickly on skis or bikes and surprising wildlife," he said. "So making noise can do a lot to increase safety."
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