Traffic measures ramped up after 2nd grizzly bear killed on Trans-Canada Highway

Parks Canada has implemented a reduced speed zone and a no stopping zone along a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park after two grizzly bears were fatally struck and killed within a week. 

On the morning of June 7, a five-year-old female grizzly bear was hit on the highway close to the Lake O’Hara turnoff.

Four days later, an adult male grizzly bear that was unknown to Parks Canada but had recently been seen in the company of the five-year-old female, was hit on the same stretch of road. 

After the female was killed, Parks Canada put a 70-kilometre per hour speed limit in place, which was subsequently reduced to 50 kilometres per hour after the death of the second bear.

David Laskin, a wildlife psychologist with Parks Canada, said RCMP had issued over 100 speeding tickets and impounded five vehicles for excessive speed since the first speed reduction was enacted. 

Bears often travel down into mountain valleys after winter hibernation. (Brian Keating)

Laskin said it’s common to encounter both grizzlies and black bears in the spring near highways as they travel down to mountain valleys in search of food after winter hibernation.

But because of a lingering snow pack that is preventing food from growing at higher elevations, Laskin said the time that bears are spending near high-traffic roadways has been extended.

“It’s just putting them at higher risk,” he said. 

Hilary Young is a program director with the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, an organization that aims to connect and protect habitat for grizzly bears in the region between Yellowstone National Park and the Yukon. 

She said this is one of the first times she’s heard of so many bears being killed on highways in such a short period of time.

On June 16, a grizzly bear cub was left orphaned after its mother was fatally struck on a highway in Jasper National Park.

“It’s surprising to us and upsetting,” said Young. 

In a statement to CBC News, Alberta Parks said based on camera data, confirmed observations by public and staff, as well as GPS collar data, there have been at least nine grizzly bears in and around Canmore alone in the past week.

Aaron Szott, an officer with Alberta Fish and Wildlife in Canmore, said that at this point the agency does not have any plans to relocate the bears. 

“If more calls are received in a pinpointed area or direct area, then we would look to do some trapping efforts, for sure,” he said.

“The nice thing is that all the bears that we’ve been getting reports of, they’ve just been eating dandelions for the most part and natural food sources. So they’re more or less just being bears.”

Both Young and Szott urged members of the public to be on high alert for bears and other wildlife, both while driving and taking part in recreational activities in the Bow Valley region. 

Young suggested that people travel in groups, make lots of noise when they’re outside, and have bear spray at the ready. For those on the road, Young added it’s important that people obey speed limits and don’t stop to watch bears that may have ventured close.

“Drive as though you’re expecting to see wildlife on the road,” she said. 

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