A large bear roams a field in the Elk Valley. File Photo

Wildlife sightings in Fernie continue, marking beginning of spring

Backcountry safety is shifting with bears out of hibernation and mating season approaching

With springtime around the corner, safety protocols in the backcountry come into play as bears come out of hibernation and mating season begins.

According to WildSafeBC Elk Valley, last week a grizzly bear was reported charging hikers on Mt. Fernie Trail.

“There were three of us at Mount Fernie, and I was in the back. We were following each other very closely on the way up when we heard a noise ahead of us. I took two more steps and saw the grizzly running down in the powder towards us,” said Florent Rouquette, one of the hikers who came across the bear. “We stepped back about five metres and kept yelling. The bear stopped maybe halfway between us and where we ran into him, then traversed the bowl just ahead of us and disappeared into the forest.”

According to Vanessa Isnardy, WildSafeBC provincial coordinator, the most important thing to remember when confronting dangerous wildlife is to never run, but rather to stop, stay calm, and back away slowly. Hikers should be prepared to encounter wildlife at all times in the backcountry, and taking a wildlife awareness and safety course is also highly recommended.

Hikers are encouraged to always carry bear spray and know how to use it. In order to avoid wildlife run ins, clapping hands, singing, talking, and making noise is advised, as is watching for bear signs such as claw marks on trees, scat, and tracks. If bear activity is noticed, it is suggested to pick another trail. Hikers are also encouraged to avoid using bear bells as the jingle noise does not carry well in forests and bears do not associate the noise with humans. Furthermore, the use of headphones when hiking is not recommended, as it prevents hikers from being aware of surroundings and nearby animal noises.

“With regards to black bears and grizzly bears, it is important to understand their behaviour. Both are capable of predatory and defensive attacks. Most black bears, including sows with cubs, are more likely to flee into the forest to avoid people. When they do make contact in a defensive attack, the injuries often consist of scratches and bruises. Most fatal black bear attacks are predatory males,” said Isnardy. “However, female grizzlies are very protective of their offspring and the injuries they may cause are more severe. When encountering a bear exhibiting defensive behaviour it is important to stay calm and back away slowly. Never run. For black or grizzly bears showing predatory behaviour, it is important to stand your ground and be prepared to use your bear spray and fight.”

According to Isnardy, animal activity picks up in the spring as animals look to replenish energy stores post hibernation or denning. Seeing that a bear’s diet is 80 per cent plant based, bear activity increases when lush greens appear, which often drives them to the side of roads. Resultantly, Isnardy reminds motorists not to stop to take photos of the animals, as it can put both them and humans at danger. Similarly, she urges anyone who stumbles upon a carcass to leave the area immediately, as bears are known to be protective of their food sources. Should the carcass be near a well trafficked trail, trail users are to call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277. Any wildlife encounters are also to be reported via the aforementioned number.

“In areas where there is less activity we still recommend hiking with another person. If hiking alone, make sure you leave a detailed trip plan with a responsible person. Also, pets should always be on a leash. Over 50 per cent of attacks by black bears on humans involve a dog. In some cases where bear activity is high, it may be best to leave them at home. Bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes and many other animals see dogs either as a potential threat or potential prey,” said Isnardy.

Isnardy also reminds locals to secure all attractants on properties. This includes storing garbage indoors when possible, and if needed, freezing potent items and adding them to bins only on morning of collection. Residents are also urged to only put garbage out on the morning of pick up, due to bears and other wildlife being more active in urban areas at night. This time of year is also when Elk Valley residents should take down bird feeders, as seeds are a high calorie food source for bears and can attract other animals that predators prey on.

Apart from bears, moose sightings have also been seen daily on the Galloway Loop cross country trail in Mt. Fernie Provincial Park. Female deer will be giving birth late May and early June. Known to be protective of their fawns, anyone who comes in proximity with deer, caribou, elk, or moose should give them a wide berth and never try to catch or transport an abandoned fawn. Motorists are also reminded to drive with care, as the most dangerous encounters are vehicle collisions.

Cougars on the other hand are active year round throughout British Columbia, however prey predominantly on deer and are associated with very few human deaths. This being said, urban deer have the potential of drawing cougars and wolves into communities, so it is important to never feed deer. While cougar attacks are rare, children are most at risk, so it is important to closely supervise them when hiking in cougar territory. If encountering a cougar, never play dead or crouch down to pick up an object. Rather, stand tall, pick up small children immediately, gather in a group, and act aggressively, staring the cougar in the eye. If the cougar approaches within a car length, discharge bear spray, aiming at the ground and drawing it up to make a wall of spray.

Ultimately, WildSafeBC recommends that the public become informed about the species in their neighbourhoods. Available on their website are at home activities parents can do with children under their WildSafe Ranger Program. They will also be posting webinar events and training sessions when community programs become available later in the season.


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