By Kelsey Verboom
Visitors and residents alike revel in the chance to see wild bears roaming through Kootenay National Park.
Unfortunately, some also take the risk of feeding the wild carnivores straight from the windows of their vehicles.
The Parks Canada dispatch office has recently received an unusual number of complaints of people feeding bears in Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, and as a result are issuing a warning for people to keep their hands and snacks to themselves.
“The problem is definitely more prevalent this year than in other years,” said Hal Morrison, wildlife and human conflict specialist for the Rocky Mountain Parks.
The complaints in Kootenay National Park centre mostly around the Olive Lake and Dolly Varden picnic areas, where stopping motorists are sharing their roadside picnics with the wild animals.
So far the complaints have only involved black bears, but a grizzly has also been spotted foraging near Olive Lake. The picnic areas are part of the bears’ natural range, so they spend time in the area looking for natural food.
“When people decide to feed a bear, it’s never good,” Mr. Morrison said. “Then bears associate people with handouts, and before you know it, they become one of those ‘problem’ bears, because when they see people they come looking for food.”
The problems extend beyond just feeding the bears, Mr. Morrison said. Bears who start to hang out roadside looking for treats are at greater risk for being hit by a passing vehicle. Also, bears with little fear of humans are more likely to wander into campgrounds or towns and get themselves into trouble.
Occasionally, Parks staff must destroy bears who have become too familiar with human handouts.
“It’s pretty simple. Don’t feed bears,” Mr. Morrison said. “Stay in your car, take a photo, then move on.”
If you see someone feeding a bear, take their license plate number and report it to Banff Dispatch at 403-762-1470. The same number can be used to report bear sightings anywhere in the park.
Under Canada’s National Park Act, anyone feeding wildlife can be fined up to a maximum of $25,000.