A grizzly bear walks in a meadow along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park.
Gavin Young / Calgary Herald archives
An early and unexpected wake up call for a Kananaskis grizzly, thought to have been roused from its hibernation by a group of passing skiers, has prompted a rare winter bear warning from Alberta Parks.Arian Spiteri, district conservation officer for Peter Lougheed provincial park, said the groggy bruin was first reported by a group of six skiers who were in a remote area south of Upper Kananaskis Lake last week just as it emerged from its winter den.“The bear came out of its den while the skiers passed by and the bear ran away,” Spiteri said of the Feb. 18 encounter.“It’s incredibly rare to see a grizzly bear out so early. There is some thought that the bear may have been disturbed by the people passing by.”
Area of Kananaskis closed indefinitely after February grizzly bear encounter. Courtesy Alberta Parks
The bruin, who wasn’t collared or tagged and whose sex and age are unknown, showed no signs of aggression when it encountered the backcountry skiers, and the group managed to escape unscathed, reporting the sighting to provincial wildlife officials the next day.Spiteri said the largest bears tend to be the first to emerge from their dens after their winter hibernation, though typically that’s not until mid-March at the earliest.However, she noted it’s not unusual for bears to see their hibernation interrupted if a den collapses or they’re disturbed by something like an avalanche. In those cases, the uprooted bruins will normally just seek out another den and hunker down until spring.In order to give the grizzly some space to find a new refuge, park officials have closed a significant, though remote, area of Kananaskis, stretching between Upper Kananaskis Lake and through the Sarrail Creek drainage below Mt. Foch. The closure does not impact the popular Rawson Lake area.
Aerial photo of a bear den taken in 2018 after the bear had already left it in the spring. Photo courtesy Alberta Parks
“We closed the area to give the bear some space because we don’t want any more encounters,” Spiteri said, adding the closure will likely last until the end of denning season, which typically stretches into May.“Because grizzlies’ body temperatures only lower a little (during hibernation), they’re much easier to wake. It’s a couple of weeks early but it will likely find another den.”The sighting comes just as female bruins are giving birth to their winter litters, which will give the newborn cubs a few weeks to build their strength before they stumble into the wilderness for the first time.Bears, particularly larger grizzlies, aren’t always adverse to winter conditions. Last November, Australian photographer Liam Bolland encountered a massive bruin believed to be the notorious bear No. 122, more widely known as “The Boss,” trudging through heavy snow near Castle Junction in Banff.Spiteri said people who encounter bears in provincial parks are asked to report them immediately by calling firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @ShawnLogan403