Grizzly Bear #126 gets a good night’s sleep
BANFF, Alberta––Many of the estimated 8,000 human residents of the City of Banff and 25,000 Canada Day visitors to Banff National Park may have awakened the next day, July 2, 2018, with headsplitting hangovers.
Unaccustomed outdoor exercise, a hot late night, a high pollen count, and too much beer took their toll among the guests and residents, as always.
But Grizzly Bear #126, the laid-back, almost friendly unofficial Banff National Park greeter, probably turned in early, slept well, and was up again at dawn without a headache for possibly the first post-Canada Day morning in his dozen-year life.
No more big bangs over Banff
This was because, explained Jack Hauen of the Toronto Globe & Mail, “The town switched to a pyrotechnics display, like you might see at a rock concert, over fireworks for its holiday celebrations going forward, so as not to terrify the thousands of animals, wild and domestic, who live in the area.”
Likewise fringing on Banff National Park, the town of Canmore, Alberta “also ditched traditional fireworks in favor of “low-noise” fireworks, which operate the same as regular ones but without as big a boom,” Hauen wrote. “Jasper,” hub of Jasper National Park, just to the north, “cancelled their Canada Day fireworks altogether because of wildfire concerns,” Hauen added.
Requested by Bow Valley Naturalists
The end of noisy fireworks in Banff, Canmore, and Jasper was requested by the organization Bow Valley Naturalists.
“Anybody who’s had a cat and dog in the vicinity of fireworks knows what it’s like – you’ve got a pet adapted to an urban environment and often they run away or hide under the bed. So you can imagine the impact that might have on wild animals,” Bow Valley Naturalists vice president Reg Bunyan told Hauen.
Few cities in the world are more economically dependent on wildlife-related tourism than Banff, which annually welcomes more than four million visitors per year. Hiking, jogging, trail-bicycling, horseback riding, skiing, white-water rafting, rock-climbing, outdoor concerts, and practically every other popular recreational activity that can be done in a national park are among the Banff attractions, but the particular allure of Banff is the opportunity for visitors to enjoy spontaneous wildlife encounters while enjoying their more structured and pre-planned activities.
Among the often seen species, besides grizzly bears, are black bears, wolves, elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, and coyotes, all with hearing far more sensitive than that of humans, none easily inured to sudden bangs.
Banff deputy mayor Corrie DiManno quickly saw Bow Valley Naturalists’ point, and realized the ease of changing the Canada Day celebration to minimize noise.
Explained Hauen, “Making quiet fireworks is a fairly straightforward feat of engineering. You can control how loud the firework is by changing the chemical composition of the explosive charge and how tightly you wrap it, just as you can control the colors and patterns.”
“We wanted to minimize the impact on wildlife in the townsite and obviously the surrounding national park,” DiManno told Hauen. “Moving to special-effect pyrotechnics helps us to walk the talk.”
Grizzly Bear #126
Grizzly Bear #126, a polite bear as grizzlies go, probably would have said thanks, had he known of the Banff decision.
Usually patrolling the Trans-Canada Highway near Lake Louise and/or the railway embankment between Banff and Canmore, often seen eating the local giant dandelions and other wildflowers, Grizzly Bear #126 is not the most famous of the celebrated Banff grizzlies.
That distinction goes to his slightly older relative, Grizzly Bear #122, also called The Boss. The Boss, father of more grizzly cubs than any other bear in the park, is known for having killed and eaten an entire black bear in August 2013, and for somehow becoming soaked with oil while feeding along the railway in May 2014, a misadventure The Boss survived without apparent enduring consequence.
But Grizzly Bear #126 may be the most often seen and photographed Banff grizzly, tending to ignore humans, if not exactly posing for close-ups––and, unlike his late girlfriend, Grizzly Bear #148, Grizzly Bear #126 seems uninclined to get into trouble, despite spending most of his time closer to humans than any others.
Grizzly bear hunting suspended
Grizzly Bear #126 was born in 2006, the same year that the Alberta government suspended grizzly bear hunting, after a nine-year study by University of Calgary environmental scientist Stephen Herrero established that the grizzlies of the Banff region had the lowest reproductive rate of any in North America.
“The study of 71 bears between 1994 and 2002 also found that humans were responsible for more than 75% of female bear deaths and 86 per cent of male deaths in the same time,” reported Judy Monchuck for Canadian Press.
Since female grizzlies normally do not reproduce until age eight, and produce only one or two cubs at intervals of four to five years, “Basically, we need to have 19 out of 20 adult female bears in their reproductive years survive into the next year,” Herrero calculated, just to keep grizzlies in the Banff region from disappearing.
Wildlife overpasses & tunnels
The Alberta government had already built more than two dozen wildlife overpasses and tunnels, at an average cost of $1 million each, to enable grizzly bears and other animals to cross the Trans-Canada Highway without jeopardy either to themselves or to motorists.
After the Herrero study confirmed that the grizzly populations north and south of the Trans-Canada Highway were becoming genetically isolated, a study conducted from 2006 to 2009 by Montana State University ecologist Mike Sawaya confirmed by analyzing the DNA in nearly 10,000 hair samples collected from barbed wire that the overpasses and tunnels are indeed heavily used by grizzlies and all of the other megafauna for which Banff National Park is known.
Parks Canada after that accelerated the construction of wildlife overpasses and tunnels, with 44 now in service in Banff alone.
Also in 2006, Grizzly Bear #126’s birth year, Defenders of Wildlife Canada began putting heat on the Canadian Pacific Railway to make more effective efforts to prevent bear/train collisions along the tracks that Grizzly Bear #126 grew up to favor.
The impetus to the Defenders of Wildlife Canada campaign was the August 2005 death of a female grizzly who was struck by a train near Mount Norquay, leaving three cubs to fend for themselves.
Remaining together, about three weeks later the cubs “burrowed under a fence and attempted to cross the Trans-Canada Highway,” recounted Dawn Walton of the Toronto Globe & Mail. “Mounties and park officials rushed to the area near the Mount Norquay exit and frantically flashed lights in attempt to slow traffic,” but two of the cubs were killed. The third cub was captured and sent to a zoo.
13 grizzly bears killed in 15 years
Herrero’s grizzly bear population study attributed only two of 39 deaths occurring between 1993 and 2002 to bear/train collisions. But then 13 grizzly bears were killed in bear/train collisions during the next 15 years.
The surge in collisions apparently began with grain spills from hopper cars that drew more bears to the tracks, where they tended to lick up the grain with their heads down, instead of listening for danger.
The Canadian Pacific Railway introduced the use of a vacuum car to collect spilled grain. Then, in 2010, after grizzly bears gained protected species status from the Alberta government, eleven bears, including Grizzly Bear #126, were radio-collared to help investigators better understand why bear/train collisions occur.
A five-year study of the radio signals suggested that the best way to protect the bears might be to eliminate “pinch points,” which encourage grizzlies to use the railway routes as shortcuts.
Raw grain & buffalo berries
The study, directed by University of Alberta biologist Colleen Cassidy St. Clair, funded by the Canadian Pacific Railway and Parks Canada, “found that enough grain is spilled along the tracks to feed about 50 bears,” reported Bob Weber of Canadian Press in January 2017.
However, said St. Clair, “We also found out that grain is far from the only attractant on the rail and it may not be the most important one.”
Explained Weber, “Bears also munch on plants such as buffalo berries, many of which do well in the cleared, sunny stretches along a rail line.”
Keeping the railway verges better cleared may solve the problem.
The life of Grizzly Bear #126 coincides, as well, with a recent marked reduction in conflicts between grizzlies and humans in and around Banff National Park.
The reduction, becoming visible in 2016, followed a 20-year quadrupling of grizzly/human conflict that appears to have begun in September 1995, when Glacier National Park rangers Susan Olin and Laurie Shearin, two Australians, and two Germans were mauled during a visit to Banff.
The worst year on record may have been 2005.
Pulled out of tree
Isabelle Dube, 35, of Cap-St.-Ignace, Quebec, was in June 2005 killed and partially eaten after she and two friends met a grizzly bear while jogging with two friends on a heavily used hiking trail near Canmore.
While the two friends backed away and ran to the SilverTip Golf Course clubhouse a kilometer away to get help, Dube tried to climb a tree and was apparently pulled down, reported Bill Graveland for Canadian Press.
The grizzly bear was shot at the scene.
“Provincial officials confirmed earlier the bear was the same one who had been relocated to a different part of his home range after he followed a woman taking wildflower pictures for about 10 minutes,” Graveland wrote. “The bear was radio-collared and moved about 12 kilometers, to the far side of a mountain range,” but returned to Canmore within days.
While the bear was known to be back, and “an officer was standing by with a bear dog to drive the bear off,” in event of another incident, according to Graveland, “no action was taken” until after Dube was killed.
Grizzly Bear #148
Two more Banff National Park visitors were injured by grizzlies in separate incidents in 2005, a male hiker and a female camper, and a female jogger was mauled on the Continental Divide Trail, about five miles west of Lake Louise, in July 2008.
The grizzly believed to have injured the jogger was shot after menacing a park warden two weeks later.
These events contributed to the concern that Parks Canada and Alberta Fish & Wildlife had in May 2017 about the behavior of Grizzly Bear #148, the six-year-old daughter of Grizzly Bear #64, whom Grizzly Bear #126 had often visited.
Bluff-charging hikers four times in eight days, and also reported for following a dog-sledder on a trail near Canmore, Grizzly Bear #148 was relocated from Banff National Park to another part of Alberta after interrupting a Banff high school rugby practice. More than 27,000 people signed electronic petitions opposing the transfer.
Soon thereafter, Grizzly Bear #148 wandered into British Columbia, where grizzly bear hunting remains legal. She was shot by a trophy hunter, whose hired guide knew of her presence, in late September 2017.