Bear 148: What we know about the grizzly and her hundreds of human encounters

Click to play video: 'Coach describes ‘moment of panic’ as grizzly bear joins Banff high school rugby practice'
Coach describes ‘moment of panic’ as grizzly bear joins Banff high school rugby practice
WATCH ABOVE from May 12: An unexpected spectator appeared at a rugby practice in Banff. About 80 people were on the field when a bear was spotted taking a stroll – May 12, 2017

She’s six years old, about 400 pounds and according to Parks Canada staff, has likely had hundreds of encounters with people — never resulting in injury, but certainly enough to stop people in their tracks.

“This bear runs into so many people — is encountered by so many people — that she does often huff or swat the air with her paw, or she takes a little hop towards somebody,” Banff National Park resource conservation manager Bill Hunt told Global News. “And it’s her way of telling people to back off; it’s her way of asserting her space. It’s not what we would call a bluff charge.”

Hunt says he’s personally run into Grizzly Bear 148 while he was on his road bike a couple years ago, to within about 20 metres.

“I jammed on the brakes,” he said. “I was making noise because I knew I was in a wooded area. And she huffed at me, swatted the air and went back to eating grass.”

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Watch below from May 15: Naturalist and former superintendent at Banff National Park Kevin Van Tighem joins Global Calgary to discuss why grizzly bear 148 seems to have no fear of humans.

Click to play video: 'Grizzly bear 148 seems to have no fear of humans'
Grizzly bear 148 seems to have no fear of humans

According to radio collar data, Bear 148 spends about 90 to 95 per cent of her time within Banff National Park. But Hunt says her home range extends into Canmore as well as in and around the Bow Valley.

She made headlines earlier this year trying to join a Banff high school rugby practice, after she followed a woman kick-sledding with two dogs, and then when hikers on Mount Norquay released their dog onto her, he said.

“On our list from this spring, the only really serious incidents involved dogs,” Hunt said. “[In the Mount Norquay encounter], the dog proceeded to harass the bear and then ran back to the owners, so the bear followed the dog back.”
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But the most recent incident — charging a man pushing a baby in a stroller while walking his dog — happened on provincial land on July 3. The Power Line Trail from Peaks of Grassi Road to several kilometres west of Quarry Lake was closed, Bear 148 was trapped and provincial officers reached out to hear more about the grizzly from Parks Canada staff while deciding what to do next.

“The bear is going to be released back in Banff National Park within its home range, to the far end of her home range to an area where the park believes there’s sufficient food to hold her for awhile until the berries become ripe and turn to fruit,” said Paul Frame, a provincial carnivore specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks’ Fish and Wildlife policy branch.

Bear 148
Bear 148. Alex Taylor/Parks Canada

He said the province’s records show eight encounters with humans separate from those that occurred within the park, including when she charged an Environment and Parks officer.

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“From the provincial government’s perspective, her behaviour is quite concerning,” Frame said. “Based on the definitions in the bear literature, a habituated bear is indifferent to the presence of humans. Whereas this bear tends to – she has a response to humans. And sometimes, those humans have dogs with them — other times, the humans don’t have dogs with them. That’s pretty concerning to us.”

So what happens if Bear 148 leaves the national park and charges someone again?

“If this same scenario we just experienced happened next week, we would euthanize that bear,” Frame said. “That’s in line with our grizzly bear response guidelines. Because the public safety risk is pretty high.

“Grizzly bears are a threatened species in Alberta so we want to keep them on the landscape, but public safety is the number 1 priority.”

Hunt said if she charged someone in the national park, the next steps for federal officials would depend on the details of the incident.

“We interview the reporting person, we look at the scene, we try to assess: was there a carcass nearby? Is she defending cubs (when it’s a bear with cubs)? What’s the rationale for her behaviour? Did someone surprise her? Or was she roadside and suddenly reacted in an unusual way to somebody?

“With that said, visitor safety is a top priority, as well as trying to keep bears on the landscape, and it’s a difficult balancing act and calls for some difficult choices.”

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Hunt said just as the speed limits on the road change inside and outside Banff National Park, approaches to managing resources are different inside and outside the park.

“So people can expect to see some differences and in most cases, a lot of similarity.”

READ MORE: Bear safety tips – what to do if you spot a bear

Banff park staff are meeting with Fish and Wildlife and Alberta Environment and Parks to review each other’s case files on the grizzly, Hunt said.

Bear 148 was relocated to the edge of her home range in the national park and released from the trap Wednesday afternoon.

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