Two surprise grizzly bear encounters in Alberta's provincial parks have occurred in recent days, with officials issuing bear warnings for the areas.
One surprise encounter occurred in the West Bragg Creek Provincial Recreation Area, which resulted in a bluff charge. A bear warning is now in place for West Bragg Creek and the surrounding areas until further notice.
The second surprise encounter, also with a grizzly bear occurred east of Kananaskis Golf Course on a construction site on Highway 40, also resulting in a bear warning, impacting the Evan-Thomas Provincial Recreation Area as well as the Kananaskis Golf Course.
Parks officials also issued a closure of popular mountain biking trails earlier this week after a black bear had been seen in the area feeding on carcasses. According to the closure notice, the Jean Guy on the Rocks, Toothless, SLF and Shattered mountain bike trails are all closed down.
Kim Titchener Owner and President of Bear Safety & More Inc., an Alberta-based organization that provides wildlife safety training and education, said that mountain biking in particular can pose a higher risk of a bear encounter.
"With COVID-19, we saw a big surge of people getting into recreation, getting into camping, and hiking," she said. "Mountain biking became a really popular sport that is a higher risk activity for bear encounters. There's more people out there [and] we're going to see more attacks by large carnivores. It's not something that's going to go away and I think that if you are a person who wants to go outdoors, learn about this stuff before you head out there."
The encounters come several days after a couple from Lethbridge was killed by an older female grizzly bear in Banff National Park.
Alberta Parks officials are stressing that while the bear warnings and closures have been put into place, bears can be encountered at any time in the Kananaskis Region.
The reports of a grizzly bear bluff charging is now the second instance of this occurring in a matter of several days. Last week, the Town of Banff reported that a mature grizzly bear had wandered into the town.
"[He] has been feeding on crab apples in residential yards in the town of Banff, and bluff charging people in the area," a previous media release from the town stated.
Banff Town officials added that the grizzly kept returning to residential yards near the north-end Banff neighbourhood, despite continuous efforts by Parks Canada wildlife staff to haze the bear away from the unnatural food source and north of town. With a property owner’s permission, Parks Canada staff cut down a crab apple tree and had fallen fruit collected to remove the attractant.
Officials are reminding hikers and residents that there are plenty of ways to minimize the risk of encountering a bear, and this includes making plenty of noise and travelling in groups, looking and listening for signs of bears, as well as keeping pets on a leash. Carrying bear spray and making sure it's easily accessible is also important, especially when hiking.
Despite the tragic attack in Banff National Park, Parks Canada is underlining that bear attacks are rare occurrences.
"Fatal bear attacks are even less frequent. Over the last 10 years, there have been three recorded non-fatal, contact encounters with grizzly bears in Banff National Park. These incidents were the result of surprise encounters."
The Banff fatality incident is the first grizzly bear-caused fatality recorded in Banff National Park in decades.