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Wildlife team working hard to keep white grizzly bear safe

A rare white grizzly bear has returned to hang out by the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff and Yoho national parks,
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Parks Canada is working hard to keep the white grizzly bear alive. PHOTO COURTESY OF PARKS CANADA

LAKE LOUISE, Alta  – A rare white grizzly bear has returned to hang out by the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff and Yoho national parks, but wildlife experts are working hard to shoo her away from the deadly stretch of road.

The well-known female bear, which was captured and fitted with a GPS collar on June 21, was released in an area away from the highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway in an attempt to keep her safe, but has since come back to the front country.

Parks Canada’s wildlife team has been using the presence of staff, vehicles with lights and noise to encourage the five-year-old bear to stay on the safe side of the wildlife exclusion fence, which she is adept at climbing.

“She has returned to the roadside along the Trans-Canada Highway in Yoho and Banff National Park,” said James Eastham, a spokesperson for Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit in an email.

“Because the bear was relocated within its home range, Parks Canada wildlife specialists anticipated that its return to the highway corridor was a possibility.”

The GPS collar the bear was fitted with allows Parks Canada staff to monitor the five-year-old bear’s proximity using a radio signal.

Eastham said this allows wildlife staff to track the bear and when possible use preventive measures to keep her from climbing the fence or otherwise getting onto the roadway.

“The collar also provides GPS tracking information, which provides additional information about where it spends time when it is not visible from the highway,” he said.

“The management goal is to encourage the animal to spend time in safer areas.”

The Trans-Canada Highway has taken a deadly toll on grizzly bears in Yoho National Park this spring.

A female grizzly – the sibling of the white grizzly – was struck and killed on the highway near the Lake O’Hara turnoff on June 7. On June 11, a male grizzly bear was also killed near the Field Hill.

A no-stopping zone along a 10-kilometre stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Sherbrooke Creek and Yoho Valley Road east of Field remains in place. The 90-km/h speed limit has also been reduced to 50-km/h.

Stopping creates traffic hazards that are dangerous to passing vehicles, increases danger to wildlife through habituation to people and vehicles. Traffic congestion can also increase the chance of bears being struck on the road.

Parks Canada wardens and RCMP have teamed up to patrol the area.

During one recent blitz in June, 80 violation tickets were issued for speed-related offences and four vehicles were impounded. One individual was served a ticket for operating a drone in a national park.

“Driving through any of Canada’s national parks allows motorists to see all types of wildlife,” says Cpl. Mike Halskov, media relations officer for B.C. Highway Patrol in a June 30 news release.

“By slowing down, drivers reduce the risk and severity of a collision with wildlife, including bears,” he added.

“If you are involved in a collision with wildlife in a national park, remain in your vehicle if at all possible.”