Trail barriers in town up, down and back up in busy bear week

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Bear management is a balancing act, and one thing that officials have to balance is public inconvenience (closed trails) vs. public safety (the chance of bear encounters).

Fish & Wildlife last week removed barriers on the trails along Sawridge Creek in town, after having blocked off a portion of them for a week or so. In that period a couple were trapped and removed, but not all.

“All the trails are open,” said F&W officer Jeremy Lindsay early in the week. “Be smart.”

But after a few days of sightings of a mama bear and three cubs in town, barriers on the trails were back up on Aug. 29. That was the day after the bear family spent some time in Schurter Park in full view of many people, plus nosing around the nearby residential neighbourhood.

Being smart, Lindsay says, means making some noise before you go around a corner. It might also mean just not using the trails if you want to err on the side of caution.

Lindsay says the trails could have been blocked from Aug. 1 to the end of October, but that seems excessive – especially given that (at the time the decision was made) “there are no sows with cubs in there.”

The trails were closed again on short notice. Either way, Lindsay says, be aware the bears could be there. They are focused on eating berries and are not behaving aggressively toward humans. Toward dogs they might be, so “make sure your dogs are on a leash,” he advises.

Speaking of being focused on berries, Lindsay says he sat and watched as a couple of bears walked right past a trap, ignoring the savoury smells from inside it.

Bears have been trapped and removed elsewhere, including Big Fish Bay and Marten Beach. A sow and three two-year-old cubs have been getting into garbage in the Gloryland subdivision. Lindsay strongly advises residents there (and elsewhere) to keep their garbage locked up until pick-up day.

Things could definitely be worse.

“We’ve been relatively fortunate,” Lindsay says. “You’ve got a grizzly about a mile from here. In Grande Cache they’ve got grizzly bears all over town.”

Lindsey says he wants to work with town council in promoting Slave Lake as a ‘Bear Smart’ community. That would require a sustained educational effort to get anywhere near the desired effect, but after this year, the incentive should be there.

What does ‘Bear Smart’ mean?

There’s FireSmart and then there’s also ‘Bear Smart.’ It involves doing things to reduce the likelihood of an unpleasant encounter with a bear. There are pretty basic measures anyone can take to reduce the things in their yard that attract hungry bears. The most obvious is not to have any garbage outside that smells like food to a bear. Another is to not grow any cherry-type fruit in the yard – especially if your yard backs onto public land. Chokecherries and their domesticated cousin the mayday tree are particularly enticing to bears. As are saskatoons.

Bear Smart includes precautions when out walking in areas that bears typically frequent in berry season. Keep your dogs leashed; bears are much more likely to attack a dog than a human being. Make noise. Carry bear spray. If it’s the height of bear season, consider staying away from forested areas of town altogether. If you are going through bear territory (which includes the creek corridor through town), don’t have your hearing impaired by earphones, and watch where you are going. Fresh bear sign means you should probably not be there.

There’s much more to the Bear Smart story presented online by the Government of Alberta.

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