One might have thought that all of Jasper National Park’s bears would have settled down for their long winter’s rest by now.
One would have been wrong about that.
“We still have one there who's hanging around the outskirts of town,” said Dave Argument, resource conservation manager with Jasper National Park.
In 2022, the report of the last bear in town was made on Oct. 23. Now, at the end of November, this one bear is still active. Argument said it is certainly unusual but far from unheard of.
That black bear is the same mama bear that was caught in a family trap with its young-of-year cub within the Jasper townsite in late August. Together, they were relocated to the Devona area, but she returned to Jasper by herself more than a month later after having travelled hundreds of kilometres across the northern part of Jasper National Part and out into British Columbia. What happened to her cub is perhaps only known to her.
She tracked that entire journey to find her way back here where she is now hanging around the west end of the townsite. Despite the colder temperatures and the modest snow on the ground, she hasn’t settled into a den yet.
“She spent a fair bit of time poking around town when she first made her return to town from the B.C. side. The last 10 days or so, she's been behaving: just hanging around on the edge of town,” Argument said.
“It's safe to say most of our bears have now gone to bed for the winter. It's tough to speculate on why she might still be awake, but at least for the time being, she's staying out of trouble.”
To date, there have been 560 incidents of bears in and around the townsite so far this year. By the end of last month, that figure was reported at 300. Argument said those are only what has been reported. The actual figure could be higher.
He added that 409 of those 560 incidents were related to fruit tree attractants. Argument said that great progress has been made over the years to remove these attractants with the cooperation of the Municipality and its residents. The garbage has been managed, the compost has been dealt with and the transfer station perimeter has been electrified.
“These fruit trees are really the last major attractant food source for bears in town,” Argument said
He noted the increasing frequency of incidents of bears in town. While black bears are the most common species reported, he expressed concern about grizzly bears eventually frequenting the townsite more often because of the availability of fruit on trees. So far, Jasper has been lucky, but there are other jurisdictions where this problem has evolved and that have been widely reported in other media.
Before that happens, black bears are still a big issue. One younger black bear this year was reported behaving aggressively with bluff charges toward pets in residents’ backyards. This indicates that they might be considering the animals as a food source to hunt.
If that is the case, the next progression isn't a far stretch from starting to interacting negatively with people as well, Argument said. Practically speaking, trapping the bears and moving them out isn’t the long-term solution to the problem, especially with the ballooning number of reports – now at 560 but still rising – to deal with.
“I just think that number is concerning, of course, showing an increase year after year. We really look forward to working hard on this over the winter and working with our partners to find a longer-term solution in removing this last attractant.”