CANMORE, Alta – A young grizzly bear that had been making the rounds in Canmore neighbourhoods eating dandelions and grass in June has been trapped and relocated to a remote area.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers say the young male bear, weighing about 175 pounds, was caught in a trap set up by the Canmore cemetery on June 23 and relocated several hundreds of kilometres away.
“He was taken ways a way up north and west,” said Mark Hoskin, a district Fish and Wildlife officer.
“If it was released within this BMA (bear management area), it would have come back without a doubt. It was so habituated to the location and knew where the food was.”
The grizzly bear initially showed up in residential neighbourhoods by Cougar Creek in mid-June. Generally tolerant of people, the bruin had been feasting on grass and dandelions in town because there was not a lot of other habitat available with the late arrival of spring and lingering snowpack.
Fish and Wildlife were initially alerted after receiving a call on June 15 of the bear bluff-charging an individual near Cougar Creek. The person told Fish and Wildlife officers he had to hide behind a vehicle to escape the encounter.
However, based on an investigation, it was determined it was more of a surprise encounter.
RCMP and Fish and Wildlife also had a strong presence patrolling the neighbourhoods that same morning as children heading to school were encountering the bruin.
At one point, the bear was hanging out in the playground on Moraine Road.
“It had preclusion to want to get too close to people or felt safe in and around people,” said Hoskin.
“That’s not good for its safety or public safety.”
Hoskin said moving a grizzly bear is a last resort and is based on the province’s grizzly bear response guidelines.
He said immobilizing wildlife is not always successful due to factors such as weather, condition of the animal and its stress levels.
“The animal may also die due to capture myopathy,” he said, referring to muscle damage that can occur when animals are suffering from extreme exertion, struggle or stress.
“Shooting a dart into a large predator can also cause aggravation, and if the drug does not take effect, then the bear could become hostile, or flee outside of the controlled area, increasing the risk to public safety.”
Grizzly bears are a threatened species in Alberta.
The technical working group of the Bow Valley human-wildlife coexistence task force recommended continuing to research the effectiveness of translocations to ensure the best chance of success for translocated wildlife.
A 2018 Alberta study showed that only one-third of grizzly bear translocations were successful.
As a general rule, translocations are no longer used in neighbouring Banff National Park as a management tool due to low success rates, animal care concerns, and limited geography in which to move an animal where it would have a reasonable chance of not encountering similar problems.
Bear biologist Sarah Elmeligi said budget cuts by the current provincial government have reduced the number of Fish and Wildlife and Alberta Park staff to carry out safety and coexistence measures, yet they are needed more than ever with the amount of people and bears in the region.
“Two things come to mind when I think of how we can all safely live together,” said Elmeligi, the Banff-Kananaskis NDP candidate in a recent letter to the Rocky Mountain Outlook.
“First is the need to promptly close an area where a bear is actively feeding to reduce the risk of human-bear conflict. Second is the importance of communication with visitors and residents.”
Another big concern for Elmeligi on coexistence with bears is there is no longer a provincial human-wildlife conflict specialist on staff anywhere in Alberta following the retirement of Jay Honeyman, whose jurisdiction included Canmore and a large surrounding region.
“The current grizzly bear recovery plan recommends more staffing focused on human-bear coexistence. So where are they?” she said in her letter.
The province has refused to answer questions on whether Honeyman will be replaced, despite repeated attempts by the Outlook.
Alberta Parks sent emails, noting there are a team of experts working with several partner organizations, and in Kananaskis Country, the focus is on the 20-year aversive conditioning program to teach bears to avoid people.
“Our approach to human-wildlife conflict and bear management is not the responsibility of one person or position,” said Bridget Burgess, communications advisor with Alberta Environment and Parks.
Burgess said Alberta Environment and Parks is continuing to take important steps toward recovery and management of grizzly bear populations in the province.
“We’re placing priority on human-wildlife interactions and we have a team of highly qualified grizzly bear recovery experts, including wildlife and habitat biologists, species at risk specialists and carnivore specialists,” she said.
Meanwhile, Hoskin said the elevated bear activity in and around Canmore throughout June seems to be quietening down.
He said there is still a black bear skirting the south end of town.
“We’re finding that there’s less,” he said, noting the elk and calves don’t appear to be as big a draw.
“That along with the dandelions not out as much, we’re not seeing that in town nearly as much as we were.”
Alberta Parks and Environment did not get back to the Outlook on whether any more bear traps had been set back up on lands managed by that department, including the Canmore Nordic Centre.