An Idaho couple hoping to catch a glimpse of the wildlife on their way to Lake Louise, Alta., got more than they bargained for.
Shortly after passing through Radium Hot Springs, on the B.C. side close to the B.C.-Alberta border, on July 15, Cassie Beyer and husband Donald Poster were headed down an incline on Highway 93 when Poster spotted a cyclist pedalling uphill in the opposite direction.
A young grizzly bear was hot on his tail.
“I was sitting in the passenger seat and had my cellphone and had been taking scenic pictures all the way,” said Beyer of the photos she captured of the encounter.
The driver of a pickup heading in the same direction as the cyclist started honking his horn, which diverted the bear’s attention, she said.
That move allowed the truck to manoeuvre between the bear and the cyclist. Feeling the rider was safe, the couple continued on their way, but not before Beyer snapped a few photos of the encounter.
Bear 148 sightings
This season may seem like a busy one in terms of encounters, but the number has been relatively stable compared to previous years, said Jay Honeyman, a human-wildlife conflict specialist with Alberta Parks.
“I think the main reason you may think it’s busier is because there is one bear in particular that is getting lots and lots of media,” he said.
That bruin is Bear 148, a female grizzly that has come into contact with people several times over the past few months.
So far this year, Bear 148 has wandered onto a rugby field during a high school practice in Banff; charged a person walking with a stroller and a dog on a leash west of Canmore; followed hikers and chased a woman who was kick-sledding.
Bears and berries also go together like peanut butter and jelly, and with a strong crop this season, Honeyman said the potential for conflict is amplified.
“When we get into the berry season, it’s just busy, particularly in places like the Bow Valley where July and August is when all the people are here,” he said.
“The bears are in the valley bottom feeding on buffalo berry and it’s always busy. The bears are on the trails, the people are on the trails and they’re bumping into each other.”
As a result, officials have been removing buffalo berries from urban areas for the last decade to reduce the chances of an encounter going bad.
Last week, the berries were removed from Quarry Lake, Legacy Trail and an off-leash dog area near Canmore, which has worked in deterring Bear 148 from hanging around.
“She’s been through there twice now and hasn’t gone to any of those places,” said Honeyman. “It’s an example of how, if you remove the food source, she will go somewhere else, and where she went was the habitat patches and the wildlife corridors, which is where we want her to go.”
Another close encounter
A conservation officer armed with a shotgun was also on hand at Barrier Lake, Alta., recently as a bear wandered close to hikers walking with dogs.
When a bear is encountered, Honeyman recommends staying calm and giving the animal space.
“Most interactions are benign, you look at the bear, you enjoy the moment, you stop, you increase your distance, let the bear know you’re there by talking, you don’t have to yell and scream, you back up and 99 times out of 100 that’s the end of it,” he said.
“With the other one per cent, people want to close distance to get a better picture and the bear doesn’t move off right away, so people think the bear isn’t bothered by their presence … The thing to know is every animal has a line in the sand and until you cross that line, you don’t know where that line is.”