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No-stopping zone implemented in Banff to protect The Boss, Split Lip

“These are big males that are usually pretty elusive and secluded by themselves and really don’t like eyes upon them, but because the food rewards is so good they’re willing to tolerate it.”
Bear 122.

An unprecedented number of photographers and visitors are descending on Banff National Park to take photos of the area’s most famous grizzly bears, The Boss and Split Lip, forcing Parks Canada to implement a no-stopping zone on a section of the Bow Valley Parkway.

The 320-metre no-stopping zone is in a location where the two bears – No. 122, the patriarch of the Bow Valley, and No. 136, aka Split Lip, named for his disfigured mouth – have been hanging out since April 2 feasting on spilled grain on the train tracks.

“There’s so many photos and videos that have been circulating on social media, it's just attracted an unusual level of visitors coming out to view the bears, specifically these bears and specifically at this site,” said Saundi Stevens, a wildlife management specialist for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit.

“A lot of people are getting out of their cars and they’re walking up to the train tracks looking for the bears when they can't see them immediately, so we’re really concerned about the likelihood of a human-bear encounter.”

Parks Canada’s wildlife team has received and responded to several reports of bear jams in the area, unsafe parking and people getting out of their vehicles to approach the bears over the past 10 days, leading to the no-stopping zone between Baker Creek and Protection Mountain Campground.

Stevens said a safe wildlife viewing opportunity cannot be accommodated in this area, noting the lack of road shoulder and small area doesn’t allow for a safe viewing distance of at least 100 metres between people and the bears.

As the bears race off the tracks to try to avoid approaching trains, Stevens said they are moving quickly and suddenly towards the road, making it particularly unsafe for people who are out of their vehicles.

“It’s pretty unsafe … people are lingering there longer and creating these hazards,” she said.

“People are approaching the bears and getting out of their vehicles, and what we’re seeing is when a train comes, the bears are trying to get out of the way and they’ll run quite quickly to get out of the way, but running towards the road or toward the people.”

Bear 122 was first spotted out of the den on March 18 – it was the first confirmed grizzly sighting of the year in Banff National Park. Reports of Bear 136’s emergence from the den began late last week.

Both grizzlies immediately headed to the train tracks near this section of the Bow Valley Parkway.

Wildlife staff investigated the site and determined that spilled grain is too dispersed to allow for effective clean-up or mitigation.

Crews tried to haze The Boss and Split Lip away from the tracks, but these efforts have been unsuccessful as the spring snowpack is covering most other natural food foraging opportunities in the area.

This makes the grain along the tracks an especially attractive food source for the bears.

“It’s very hard to move the bears out of the area when there are no other places for them to go at this point in time where they can find some more natural forage,” said Stevens.

“These guys are the first ones coming out of their den in the spring and there's very little natural forage for them at this point in time, just with the snowpack as it is,” she added.

“They are just concentrating a lot of their movements and seeking food along the train corridor, whether it’s grain or even or rail-killed wildlife that might be off in the forest on the side.”

Ryan Phinney, who spent more than 15 years in bear management and runs the Facebook group Grizzly Bears of Alberta made a decision to stop posting photos of bear 122 and 136 this week following the unprecedented attention the bears were getting.

“I am trying to protect the bears … At the end of the day this is about the bears and the effects we have on them and having everyone race to that location … the bears don’t need that,” said Phinney in a video he posted on his site.

“These are big males that are usually pretty elusive and secluded by themselves and really don’t like eyes upon them, but because the food rewards is so good they’re willing to tolerate it.”

Phinney said the videos and photos show The Boss seems to look anxious and on high alert.

“Is it because he’s worried about a train coming in and hitting him, is he worried about one of the CP trucks coming down the rails or is he worried about Banff wardens hazing him … we don’t know, but at the end of the day we do know there’s anywhere from one to two dozen cars sitting there on the road taking pictures,” he said.

“I know in the past we’ve had people basically belly crawl on the railway track to be anywhere from 50 to 60 metres away to take amazing pictures, but it’s just not safe, and at the end of the day this is about what we do around bears.”

Phinney said people are concerned about the bears feasting on the unnatural food source of grain spilled by Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railway, but the reality is this is where the bears head when first out of the den.

“In recent weeks, we’ve all obviously seen that The Boss has come out in Banff and there’s no surprise. March 13 to 28 he’s usually the first bear out and about and he heads straight to the train tracks to feed on that wonderful grain,” he said.

“I know a lot of us are upset about that because it’s an unnatural food source, but to him, it is part of his routine, it is a natural food source to him, and that’s why he’s out so early and that’s why he’s 600 pounds out of den.”

Meanwhile, disobeying closures or no-stopping zones in the national park is illegal.

Parks Canada wildlife and law enforcement officers, with assistance from the local RCMP detachment, will routinely patrol the area to ensure motorists are complying with the no- stopping zone.

Penalties for violations range from a $115 ticket to a mandatory court appearance and maximum fine of $25,000.

“Law enforcement will have the ability to lay charges, but obviously we hope they don't have to because people will obey the closure,” said Stevens.

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