Bears are moving eastward in Alberta — and Clearwater County officials want tourists and landowners to be prepared.
A large digital sign has been erected for the first time along Hwy 11, east of Nordegg, informing hikers and campers there are bears in the vicinity.
Some people still mistakenly think bears mostly stay within the boundaries of Banff or Jasper National Parks, said Matt Martinson, director of agriculture and community services for Clearwater County.
He believes the electronic highway-side sign should set them straight.
While human habitation once pushed bears west into the mountain wilderness, “now they are coming back,” Martinson added.
Judging by a rising number of reported grizzly and black bear sightings, he suspects more of these animals have lost their fear of humans and are moving into eastern parts of the county.
“This isn’t just anecdotal… Bears are becoming more of an issue,” he added.
“We want to inform people because the first step in being bear smart is being bear aware.”
The eastward bear migration could be due to many factors — including the 2006 ban on hunting Alberta’s grizzly bears, which are considered a threatened species although their numbers have been growing in the province.
Martinson believes a lot of grizzly bears are no longer scared of people.
The county has also posted detailed signage about how to prevent bear encounters at campgrounds west of Nordegg.
And Clearwater County officials have been working with the County of Mountain View’s Bear Smart Program to map bear movements online at www.mountainviewbearsmart.com. Anyone intending to visit the Nordegg area can check out the latest bear sightings on this map. (By hovering a cursor over a dot on the map, the date of the sighting becomes visible.)
Martinson said mapping was purposely kept general because he doesn’t want to draw either hunters or curious tourists directly to the bears.
But he hopes these sightings will help people make smart decisions when they realize bears are in the area — such as hiking in larger groups and remembering to leave all food and waste matter in the car.
Another step in decreasing bears encounters is to leave dogs at home. Martinson said dogs can “root” bears out of the hiding, causing them to give chase. These pets will then invariably lead the bears right back to their human owners.
Because bears are attracted to human garbage, the Nordegg Community Association along with business sponsors are once again providing bear-proof bins at the entrance of the hamlet to accept refuse from hikers and campers.
This is the second year of this program, and the bins are filling up each weekend, as more people set out to explore the West Country during the pandemic, said Nick Frank, president of the association.
“We moved out here because we love the wilderness — and while we love to have people to share it with us — we want to protect it,” he added.
Human-bear encounters often lead to tragedy as a person is either killed or injured in an attack, and the bear is later put down.
Reducing the chance of an encounter is better than assuming that bear spray or a bear banger will keep you safe, said Martinson.
He noted the Water Valley woman who was killed by a bear last month was a seasoned outdoors person and was familiar with remote living. “These things can happen very fast” — before bear bangers or spray can be deployed, he added.
More bear safety information for landowners and tourists is available at www.mountainviewbearsmart.com, or the Clearwater County website.