As spring progresses and we greet warmer temperatures, some of us will ostensibly be heading out into Mother Nature. However, it also means that the bears are waking from their slumber.
Blair Fyten, a Human-Wildlife Co-existence Specialist in Banff National Park said that the first Grizzly bear sighting occurred on March 14th.
“We think this is a bear that we call 122, or the locals call “The Boss”. Typically, it's time of year that he comes out mid-March,” Fyten said. “[In] mid-March, the bigger male grizzly bears come out of their dens since they're in a little better shape and have bigger fat reserves on them.”
According to Fyten, female grizzlies will start coming out in one’s months' time or so.
“They're usually the last ones that come out of their dens. There’s a lot of snow on the landscape here, so there’s not a lot of food out there available for them. They can conserve more energy by being in the den rather than roaming around and using energy."
Fyten said that whether one is hiking or still using the cross-country ski trails, snow-shoeing or biking, it’s important to come prepared for a potential bear encounter. He said perhaps one of the most important things one should do, is to make noise.
“Chances are, if they hear you, then they're going to leave the trail and you might not even see them as you walk past. If you're quiet, then you're going to have a surprise encounter, and it could lead to a confrontation of son kind. We also ask people, you know, it's time to get your bear spray out.”
Being aware of fresh bear signs such as watching for fresh paw prints and scat can also help you to stay safe and out of the bears’ way. And if you and your four-legged furry companion are deciding to head to the mountains, keeping your dog on a leash is the best choice, though Fyten said keeping your dog home is always the safest gamble.
“We always suggest that you go hiking with friends or in a larger group. It's been proven over time that groups that bump into bears have fewer situations happen to them, as compared to individual hikers.”
When asked if there are different dangers associated with different species of bears, whether they be black bears or Grizzlies, Fyten said that more people are killed by black bears than by Grizzlies, but Grizzlies still remain at the top of the pecking order. Fyten also has advice for nature photography aficionados.
“If you happen to come across a bear roadside or really close to the road, we ask that you just stay in your car, don't get out of your car, take your picture from the safety of your vehicle through the window, do it quickly and then move on,” he said. “We tend to find that photographers sometimes like to follow animals; it's actually illegal to do that, that’s harassment.”
Fyten explained that by following an animal, you are forcing the animal to expend more energy, in a time when there are limited food sources available, which can be detrimental in the end. One should always stay at least 100 meters away from wildlife, especially carnivores.
And as far as feeding? Feeding any kind of wildlife makes the animal much more dangerous.
“Every time this occurs, then that wild animal is going to be looking for it down the road. A food habituated animal can be very dangerous.”
But what about “The Boss”?
“He's one of our dominant male bears in the valley and has been for several years. He's one of the prime breeding males, and he does have a habit of chasing other bears off. He earned the name the boss because you know... he is the boss of the valley.”