Banff National Park (Wikimedia Commons)

Death of mother grizzly a ‘big loss’ for bear population in Banff park: experts

The bear, known as No. 143, spent most of her time in the backcountry of Banff

Wildlife experts say the death of a mother grizzly bear and her two cubs — including a rare, blond-headed grizzly — in Banff National Park is a major loss to the population.

Parks Canada has said that an adult bear was struck and killed Sept. 3 by a Canadian Pacific Railway train on a rail line through the Alberta park.

“She was about 10 years old and had been known to Parks Canada,” Dwight Bourdin, resource conservation manager with the agency’s Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit, said in an interview this week.

The bear, known as No. 143, spent most of her time in the backcountry of Banff and the adjacent Yoho and Kootenay national parks in British Columbia, Bourdin said.

She was spotted earlier this summer with two cubs, including the one with a blond head and brown body. But Bourdin said neither cub has been spotted since before the mother bear was killed.

“One has not been seen since early June and one was not seen since Aug. 15,” said Bourdin. “Both are believed to have perished prior to this incident.

“We’ve searched the area thoroughly. We continue to monitor the site. We have CP that will report any sightings.

“But we feel that the cubs did not survive.”

Parks Canada estimates on its website that there are 65 grizzly bears in Banff National Park.

Bourdin said the two cubs, which are believed to be No. 143’s second set as a mother, were likely killed by a large male grizzly or another predator in the park. It’s not known whether her cubs from 2018 survived, he said.

The portion of the track where the mother bear’s death happened is between Castle Junction and Lake Louise and between the Bow River and a steep embankment.

“There were no grain spills on site and no carcasses on site that would have drawn her to that location,” said Bourdin. “We believe she was using it as a travel route.”

Officials said an investigation showed there were also strong winds and flowing water at the location so the bear may not have heard the train.

Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, led a five-year research project in Banff National Park to find out why so many grizzly bears were dying on the tracks.

It noted that at least 17 bears died between 2000 and 2017.

Cassady St. Clair said the location of the latest death holds many of the same characteristics that she and her team found pose a risk to bears.

“Mortalities occurred in the past more frequently where trains were travelling faster, where the track was close to water … and where there was a curvature in the track,” she said.

“It’s attractive for bears to travel on the tracks under those circumstances … and it’s hard to get off of the track quickly.”

A paper published the day before the bear strike by one of her team members, Jonathan Backs, showed a warning system with flashing lights and bells could help reduce animal deaths because they would be alerted to oncoming trains and get off the tracks earlier.

Cassady St. Clair said the death of No. 143, one of the bears in the research study, is disappointing.

“She’s exactly the kind of bear that everyone wants to keep in the population,” she said. “She was a well-behaved backcountry bear, a young mother.

“It is a big loss for the population.”

Bourdin said it’s “definitely concerning” to lose a female bear, but that’s why Parks Canada continues to do mitigation work around the tracks to prevent more deaths.

“The research showed there was no single solution, no silver bullet, to the situations there,” he said. “I think it’s a matter of continuing to learn, continuing to do prescribed fire and habitat improvements for the species.”

A statement from CP didn’t address the death, but said it continues to work with Banff National Park to try to reduce the number of grizzly deaths along the tracks.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Students/staff evacuate Rossland Summit School due to smell of smoke

SD20 says students in different learning groups didn’t come in contact with each other in evacuation

Beaver Valley Curling Club set to return to the rink

B.V. Curling is following Curl BC’s lead and will have ice layouts that allow for physical distancing

Man whose crime spree began in Nelson pleads guilty in death of female passenger

Anthony Cortez scheduled to be sentenced for 2017 incidents

Trail Blazers: Fruit Fair is where farmers markets began

Photos: Courtesy the Trail Historical Society - scroll to the bottom to see the building’s exterior

Innovative Kootenay Boundary study augments care for renal patients

Project called the Lung Ultrasonographic Assessment of Volume Status in Hemodialysis Patients

BC Liberal Leader talks drug addiction in the Lower Mainland

Drug addiction and public safety a top priority says Andrew Wilkinson

Pandemic derails CP Holiday Train

Canadian Pacific will work to get donations to food banks while also producing an online music concert

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Interior Health reports five new COVID-19 cases

Across the region, 34 cases are active

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Local councils important, Horgan says as municipal conference ends

B.C. NDP leader says ‘speed dating’ vital, online or in person

Penticton woman sentenced to one year in prison for manslaughter of teen boyfriend

Kiera Bourque, 24, was sentenced for manslaughter in the 2017 death of Penticton’s Devon Blackmore

Most Read