Bow Valley Spring Survival Guide

Dealing with Ticks, Elk AND “Living in Bear Country”
I mentioned in March that I would start a survival section, and the front page headlines in the paper on April 19 kind of launched me into it: Wardens chase bear from Banff backyards.

The bears are awake and hungry… and it’s therefore, the wake-up call for residents and visitors to properly store garbage and pet food inside or in a bear-proof garbage dumpster.

There are two different species of bears in the Canadian Rockies: the black bear and the grizzly. While they may look a little different, they are equally dangerous. Although negative human-bear encounters are rare, this is most likely time of year for conflict to occur.

The high country is full of snow and this forces hungry bears into the valleys foraging for food on the same trails as early-season bikers, hikers and motorists. In addition, bears are accustomed to roaming in large territories, so they don’t like to share with other bears. So bears sometimes chase other bears closer to town.

Bears are driven by a large need for food in the spring and they will take every opportunity to get into what they consider food: garbage, pet food, barbecue grease, pop cans, beer bottles, bird seed and restaurant grease bins. Once bears get a taste of human food, they will keep coming back for more, and gradually as they lose their fear of people, they become more unpredictable and dangerous.

For reasons of public safety, park wardens (Banff), park rangers (Kananaskis) and wildlife officers may be forced to relocate or destroy a habituated bear.

Fines for leaving garbage accessible to (any) animals in the Town of Banff, Town of Canmore and Lake Louise is $100, and repeat offenders can cop a fine of $150. More than that, the bear loses. Often relocated bears do not find their own “territory” and return to easy pickings near people… and become a “problem bear” that must be destroyed.

What you can do:

  • When travelling on trails in the forest make HUMAN noise: sing or talk (yes, even to yourself)…. do not for pete’s sake buy a “bear bell”!!! The locals call them LUNCH BELLS! They attract animals with a somewhat “animal” or bird-like sound and are incredibly annoying to the rest of us!

  • Never leave food or garbage outside your home, camper or tent.

  • Get a horn for your bike…. several tales of mountain bikers breaking speed records when chased by an angry grizzly are, while entertaining when no one is injured, near death experiences!

  • NEVER approach or feed a bear! Avoid female bears with cubs; a mother bear will aggressively protect her young.

  • Remember to give bears a wide berth; they may look large and clumsy, but they can run as fast as 65 km/hr for short distances.

  • If you somehow come across a bear on a curve in the trail she/he will likely be more frightened and concerned than you (hard to imagine, eh?). The experts say to calmly back up, appear passive, avert your eyes, never raise your voice, drop your pack, continue your retreat looking all the while for cubs. Now, if the bear continues to get too close (yikes!) take out your pepper spray. Personally I’ve never been that close to a charging bear!

    It is the responsibility of those that work, live and recreate in bear country to learn as much as possible about bears, their behaviour, and how to prevent and react to attacks. Always report bear encounters or sightings in busy human areas to the local wildlife authorities, parks office or visitor’s centre.

    What the heck are ticks?
    The Rocky Mountain Wood Tick looks like a little flat spider: triangular body about 5 mm long, with eight legs. They are common in grassy areas frequented by small mammals, elk and Rocky Mountain sheep. Tick move slowly, one leg at a time. They are easy to grab and they cannot sting. If you are in the Rockies in the spring, from April to June, you may have occasion to do some grabbing.

    Ticks climb up the grasses or shrubby plants and wait for a host. They continue to climb up your pant legs, seeking areas of tender skin that can be penetrated easily by its mouthparts. They are inserted gradually so that the host doesn’t notice.

    Each day you are in the mountains during April and May, strip down before supper and check yourself over well, especially in your hair (and in other hairy places). Ticks often go for the nape of the neck or behind the ears, where there is plenty of hair and the skin is thin. Get somebody to look at your back. Check your pets too.

    In the afternoon, any ticks that you pick up will probably still be crawling around. Grab them and either flush them down the toilet or burn them up. If the tick is attached, remove it by pulling gently and steadily. If the mouthparts stay in the wound, they should be removed. Tease them out with a flamed needle. Then wash the wound with soap and sterilize with antiseptic.

    Urban Elk

    Park Wardens are planning to put pressure on urban elk in downtown Banff – and keep it on – until the habituated animals learn to live farther away. Elk are part of the ecosystem, it’s getting them back into that ecosystem that is the struggle. Elk are so comfortable in Banff’s bustling townsite that is safe from wolves, at least three generations of calves have been born in or close to town.

    Hazing measures, which include chasing the animals with cattle-type working dogs, noise crackers, sticks with flags, bean bags, and rubber bullets began on April 15, and will continue for six months. The plan aims to make downtown Banff an elk-free zone. Reducing the number of people being hurt each year by wild animals is also a major goal. The public is asked not to “help” by harassing the wildlife with their own dogs.

    The bottom line is that elk, regardless of seeing them munching someone’s tulips in a Banff front yard, are wild animals. Never approach them! Steer clear of any hazing activities that you see in the next six months too.

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