I went on a walk this weekend in Banff, along a trail just outside of town. The trail was edged by buffaloberries, the small red bitter berries that bears eat with abandon at this time of year. Usually I’d feel cautious and extra aware, hiking in a berry bonanza. Usually I'd holler periodically to alert any nearby bears of my presence. But I was in a small group, a group very familiar with the outdoors and with bears, so I relaxed, stayed quiet and floated along, tasting berries. Then we saw the bear. He was a large, very large, very near, very black bear. He was also munching on berries, very quietly, on the path about 10 feet away. He looked at us as if to say Leave me alone– I’m eating dinner, and we turned and silently walked out the way we had come. We should have been making more noise, but thankfully the bear wasn’t too disturbed by our presence.
As we walked out we talked about how differently it could have gone had we been on bikes. Riding quickly, as bikers tend to do, you’d be on top of this bear before you saw it. I don’t think he would have taken kindly to his dinner being interrupted by four bikers shooting out of the woods beside him. God forbid the bear be a momma bear, with young cubs by her side, like the one that charged a Calgary cyclist in Banff on Saturday morning.
The Alberta Government’s Sustainable Resource Development department put out a Be Bear Smart Mountain Biking Checklist last year. They recommend that you “don’t bike in bear habitat in early spring when bears emerge from dens, in mid-August when berries ripen or in late fall when bears are preparing for winter.” If you do encounter a bear while biking they recommend you get off and put the bike between you and bear and walk away slowly. Don’t try to be Lance Armstrong and take off like a rocket. A bear can outrun even the fastest cyclist, even going downhill. Now that’s food for thought, eh?
Check out these Calgary Public Library items for more information on bears and bear safety:
Bear Attacks : Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero
The definitive guide by Alberta’s top bear researcher
Staying Safe in Bear Country: A Behavioral-Based Approach to Reducing Risk by Stephen Herrero
A videorecording compiling the knowledge of leading experts on bear behavior, including Dr. Herrero
The Grizzly Manifesto : In Defence of the Great Bear by Jeff Gailus
Gailus is a Calgary author and conservationist