Jasper National Park has stopped issuing bear reports this summer because the warnings have become counterproductive: instead of taking heed of the reports, visitors actively seek out the animals and sometimes take risks to snap photos.
The discontinuation of reports is an effort to give wildlife space and reduce bear traffic jams in the park.
Over the past five years, there has been an increase in “harassment of wildlife,” according to Steve Malcolm, a human-wildlife conflict specialist for Parks Canada.
That harassment includes feeding, chasing, following, circling and trapping animals — all of which have huge long-term consequences.
“As they become more habituated, they become less reactive to some of the visitors’ presence,” Malcolm said. “They become more tolerant.”
LISTEN BELOW: Steve Malcolm joins the 630 CHED Afternoon News
Scoping out bears
Parks Canada found that people started to use wildlife warnings to find out where the bears are.
“We actually originally created that as a safety tool to allow the public to become very familiar,” Malcolm said. “We’re just finding that’s actually counterproductive. It’s actually creating situations where people are using the bear reports in an effort to try and find out where the good congregation and concentrations of animals are.
“As a result of some of the bears that are getting exposed to hundreds and hundreds of people every day, they’re starting to exhibit sometimes defensive behaviours as people start to encroach their space. They’ll become a little bit more aggressive. They’ll do bluff charging. They’ll do stress exhibitors where they’ll pound the ground.
“If people don’t pick up those cues, then their safety is really at a risk.”
In addition to halting bear warnings, officials are still working on proactive wildlife measures, including education, garbage removal and attractant management. They are also looking at restricting activities in certain areas — such as having people travel in specific groups — closing an area or implementing no-stop zones.
“And of course, then we’re just testing everybody’s integrity, in terms of their knowledge.”
How people should behave
In Jasper, officials manage over 3,000 wildlife incidents a year, according to Malcolm.
His main message is to stay in your vehicle.
“That allows the bear not to become habituated to the people,” Malcolm said. “They’re just more comfortable doing their natural thing along the roadside, accessing food safely because the vehicle creates a safe opportunity to do that.”
Also: don’t stay in the area for long.
Responsibility in the backcountry
Katie Morrison, the conservation director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) in southern Alberta, said that when visitors are in national parks, they need to remember they are in the home of wildlife.
“That’s the place that they’re safe and that they’re living their daily lives and we have to respect that,” Morrison said.
“That’s both for the safety of the bears so they can feed and move safely, but it’s also for the safety of us and people in parks and wild areas — that we’re not getting too close to these wild animals and creating a conflict situation that could end badly for the bear or the people.”
Morrison is advocating for responsibility in the backcountry to ensure humans create a safe space for bears.
When you pull over to take photos of wildlife, it might disrupt the bear, she said.
“Often, those bears are feeding on the side of the road because that’s where the high, valuable food is and they’re trying to get as much food as they can over the spring, summer and fall so that they can reproduce and live in these habitats,” Morrison said. “So it could be disturbing the bears, having people all around.
“We don’t want wild animals and bears being accustomed to people around them all the time because, at some point, they might get tired of that and we want to make sure that they feel safe where they are and not pressured by people too close.”