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Hiker attacked by bear fined for having dog off leash

Bear took off with her cubs and the hiker walked out and sought medical attention
20191015 Trail Closed 0001
A closed sign is located at the Cougar Creek trailhead for a large area between Harvie Heights and Burnco following a bear encounter. The closure will be lifted Oct. 23, but a bear warning remains in place. Evan Buhler RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – A hiker that was chased and bitten by a mamma bear defending her cubs earlier this month on the Horseshoe trail system near Canmore has been fined $115 for having an off-leash dog in a provincial park.

One of the person's dogs was off-leash ahead of them on the trail, but was followed back to its owner by a bear protecting her cubs. It’s now unclear, according to provincial wildlife officials, whether it was a grizzly bear, or black bear.

Andy Rees, Alberta Parks district conservation officer with Bow Valley Provincial Park, said a charge was laid against the hiker, noting it comes with a $115 fine with no court appearance.

“In the Parks, it’s legislated that dogs have to be on leash when you’re recreating in the park itself and so we want people to be abiding by that legislation,” he said.

“I think this is a great example of what potentially can happen when pets aren’t on a leash.”

The encounter occurred on the Horseshoe trail system on the front slopes of Grotto Mountain in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park on Oct. 10.

The hiker was nipped on the back of the calf, but managed to use bear spray on the charging bear. The bear took off with her cubs and the hiker walked out and sought medical attention. No details about the hiker are being released by Alberta Parks.

The incident prompted a closure of a large area on the north side of the valley from Harvie Heights to the Burnco pit. Alberta Parks plans to reopen the area Wednesday (Oct. 23), but a bear warning will remain in place.

Rees said five charges were laid against people who ignored the closure, mostly people from outside the community.

“Overall, the compliance for the closure was good and I just want to thank the local community for their support,” he said.

Nick de Ruyter, Bow Valley WildSmart program director, said he hopes that knowing Alberta Parks will issue fines is enough to deter people from letting their dogs off leash, though he said there might need to be steeper fines for that to happen.

“I think it’s good that the hiker got a fine; obviously it’s illegal to have your dogs off-leash on the provincial parks lands,” he said.

“We educate people about being safe around wildlife and sometimes education isn’t enough, and maybe enforcement is the only way that people might change their behaviour; potentially increasing fines might help speed up the change in behaviour.”

Colleen Campbell, a current board member and past president of Bow Valley Naturalists, said the fine amount is “pathetic.”

“I don’t think it’s a deterrent at all. I think $500 would probably be a bit more of a sting for having your dog off-leash,” she said.

“I’m just so frustrated with the idea that it’s OK to break the rules – we live here, we know what we’re doing, my dog behaves – that kind of attitude.”

Meanwhile, Rees said that following further investigation by conservation officers, evidence indicates that the animal might have been a black bear sow that was brown in colour, not a grizzly.

“I can’t confirm that either way yet,” Rees said.

“We have some DNA samples that were sent away to our lab to see if we can determine that,” he added, noting it may take up to three months to get those results.

Rees said bears are still out and about feeding in the lead-up to hibernation.

He said people are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, make plenty of noise, watch for bear sign, don’t wear ear buds, have pets on a leash, and carry bear spray and know how to use it.

“It’s having that situational awareness,” Rees said. “If people takes those steps when they’re out there and recreating in the parks and in bear country, then the likelihood of having encounters is greatly reduced."

Bow Valley WildSmart can’t stress enough the importance of bear spray year-round, noting there have been several recent cases in which it has been used successfully to scare wildlife away.

On Oct. 2, a local woman walking her dog on-leash used bear spray to scare away a cougar. Bree Campbell was returning to the parking lot from Ha-Ling Peak Trail with her dog when a cougar snuck up behind her.

Earlier this summer, Olympic biathlete Emma Lunder believes deploying bear spray saved her life, or prevented serious injury, when a mamma grizzly defending her two cubs throttled toward her from 50 metres away.

In any of these cases, de Ruyter said the encounters could have been potentially much worse without the use of bear spray.

“It’s such an easy thing to carry. It could save your life, it could save your pet’s life and by using it it’s also potentially saving the bear or other wildlife’s life because hopefully they learn a lesson from it and stop approaching humans,” he said.

“It’s nice if everyone can do all the right things to avoid encounters, but sometimes you can do everything right and still have an encounter, so it’s good to be prepared and that’s where bear spray comes in.”

Please report all bear sightings immediately to 403-591-7755 in Canmore and Kananaskis Country and 403-762-1470 in Banff National Park.