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No-stop zone in Yoho to protect rare white grizzly bear, newborn cubs

“Our wildlife teams and wardens are on it and are working closely with the RCMP,” said François Masse, superintendent of Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay.
A no-stopping zone has been implemented to protect a rare white grizzly bear and her cubs. PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA

FIELD – A legally enforceable no-stopping zone and reduced speed limit was quickly implemented on a dangerous stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho National Park to protect a famed white-coloured grizzly bear and her newborn cub.

The now seven-and-a-half-year-old female grizzly has emerged from the den for the first time with two brown-coloured cubs in tow, and like she does each spring, heads to the front country to feast on dandelions and other green-up by the side of the highway.

Parks Canada implemented the no-stopping zone and 70 kilometre-per-hour speed limit along a 10-km stretch of highway between Yoho Valley Road and Sherbrooke Creek on Thursday (May 23) with the emergence of the highly-photographed grizzly and her cubs expecting to generate a social media storm and increase in traffic.

“Our wildlife teams and wardens are on it and are working closely with the RCMP,” said François Masse, superintendent of Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay.

Prominent Canmore wildlife photographer John Marriott said he is “relieved and thrilled” to hear that Parks Canada is acting immediately to protect the bear, referred to by many as Nakoda.

He called on Parks Canada to immediately get staff monitoring the bear 24-7, particularly during daylight hours, with full RCMP cooperation.

“I hope they are able to also provide a Parks Canada escort at all times she’s near the road from dawn to dusk and even at night, if at all possible, and I also hope that the RCMP is able to regularly patrol the no-stopping and 70-km/h zones,” said Marriott.

“Nakoda is the only young reproducing female grizzly bear in the entire Lake Louise subpopulation and it is critical that Parks does everything in their power to keep her alive and on the landscape, so I’m really glad to see them being proactive like this.”

The young grizzly first showed up by the side of the highway several years ago with her female sibling, a light-brown coloured bear that was run over and killed on the highway near the Lake O’Hara turnoff in early June 2022.

Bear experts have said the white bear is not albino – mutations of certain genes that affect the amount of melanin, which controls the pigmentation of skin, eyes and hair – but more likely the rare colour is caused by a recessive gene that makes fur white.

The bear had also become known for acrobatics and agility in climbing the wildlife exclusion fence, prompting Parks Canada to electrify the fence.

At the end of June 2022, the bear was captured and fitted with a GPS collar and relocated away from the deadly Trans-Canada Highway in an attempt to save her life.

News of the emergence of the famed bear and her cubs showing up in the frontcountry this week was quick to circulate on social media, with one local social media influencer posting a video of the bear family online garnered 69,000 views in less than 24 hours.

Marriott said it is disappointing to see social media influencers posting videos of Nakoda with her new cubs.

“I get that these influencers realize that the videos may get them a lot of views and up their influence even further, but at what cost to Nakoda and those little cubs?” said Marriott.

“The additional pressure she’s going to get from photographers and lookie-loos that want to see her, even if they can’t legally stop on that section of highway, is going to further endanger her and the cubs and make that an even more dangerous stretch of highway.”

Marriott personally challenged all locals and wildlife photographers to avoid the area.

“I make my living off of photographing bears and other wildlife, but you won’t see me out there adding to the chaos,” he said.

“So if I’m not doing it, then I challenge others to follow my lead and not go look for her and not post any photos or videos of her.”

Penalties for violating the no-stopping zone can range from a $115 ticket to a mandatory court appearance and maximum fine of $25,000. Speeds of more than 40 km/h above the posted limit in Yoho National Park can result in vehicle impoundment.

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