BANFF – The future of The Boss, also known as grizzly bear No. 122, is in the hands of Banff residents.
The patriarch of Banff National Park grizzly bears has been in the Banff townsite feasting on crab apples in residential yards and bluff-charging people in the area.
Officials say fruit trees in Banff pose a risk to the safety of people and the survival of bears – which often end up relocated or dead.
Bob Haney, long-time resident and retired Banff chief park warden whose barking dog alerted him to The Boss in a neighbour’s yard, called on residents to chop down their fruit trees and remove fruit.
“People should be concerned that these attractions could be a death sentence to the bear that’s involved,” said Haney, who is also a former Banff town councillor.
“Bears are going to walk through, but we don't want them staying because of attractants like fruit trees – that’s also for the safety of people walking around the neighbourhood.”
Haney said The Boss first showed up in the Marmot Crescent neighbourhood on Sunday (Sept. 24).
“He kind of slowly ambled along, a bit cautious,” he said.
“The gate into a neighbour’s yard, he pushed into it a few times, and boom off it went, and he went over and then laid down at the bottom of the tree and had lunch.”
With a keen sense of smell, bears like No. 122 are driven by food at this time of year as they try to pack on weight ahead of a long winter’s hibernation.
Parks Canada staff were quick to cut down the crab apple tree – and had all the fallen fruit removed – because the grizzly kept returning for an easy meal, despite repeated hazing by wildlife staff.
Considered the largest and most dominant of Banff’s bears, The Boss kept returning to the area in the following days.
“When the tree was cut down, there was no more attraction, although The Boss did come back two more times to see whether it was there,” said Haney, noting that was on Monday and Tuesday.
“The last time, you know, he just looked and then he moved on… then the wardens (resource conservation officers) pushed him west and apparently he kept going.”
According to the Town of Banff, a black bear has also been feeding on berries in a mountain ash tree on hotel grounds just northeast of town.
Over the past few days, wildlife staff worked all hours of the day and night hazing both bears out away.
With a recent council-approved bylaw change within the Town of Banff, municipal enforcement officers now have the authority to issue an order to remove a tree that has proven to attract bears to feed on its fruit.
“Nobody in Banff who remembers the tragic loss of Bear 148 wants to see another bear relocated or euthanized due to easily avoidable human activity such as growing an apple tree in town,” said Michael Hay, manager of environment for the Town of Banff in a statement.
“We have a program to pay for the full costs of removing fruit trees on private property and replacing with a non-fruit-bearing tree, so we can help people make responsible choices.”
Bear 148 was a famous female grizzly grizzly bear who frequented the Banff townsite as part of her home range. She, too, had gotten into fruit trees during her time in Banff, including one on Park Avenue that she went back to time and time again.
While she spent most of her life in Banff National Park, she occasionally wandered onto unprotected Alberta provincial lands in Canmore to feast on buffalo-berries.
In the summer of 2017, she came in close contact with hikers, runners, mountain bikers and dogs almost daily as she spent time on the south side of the Bow Valley in Canmore.
She was relocated to remote Kakwa Wildland Provincial Park more than 500 kilometres away.
A short time later, the six-year-old female grizzly was shot and killed by a trophy hunter near McBride, B.C. – mere months before the trophy hunt in that province was banned.
The Bow Valley Naturalists (BVN) don’t want to see anything like this happen to The Boss, who has managed to successfully carve out a living in the busy and developed Bow Valley for more than two decades.
“I find it really sad that people who live in town are not invested in doing the best they can to live with those other creatures that live around us,” said Colleen Campbell, a member of BVN’s board of directors.
“Our behaviour can imperil each other as well as the lives of wildlife. I don’t think ignorance of the potential can be considered justification.
“We lose way too much wildlife to human behaviour.”
Last fall, Parks Canada was forced to kill two habituated black bears – a mother and her cub – after they fed on multiple crab apple trees throughout town, including in the industrial compound, the downtown core and in Middle Springs.
As of mid-September, there were about 22 crab apple trees that had been removed from the Banff townsite since 2015; however, a revised list indicates there were still at least 34 trees remaining throughout town.
Hay said that during a blitz of residential yards across town last month by municipal and Parks Canada staff, five homeowners agreed to remove their fruit trees this week.
The Town is coordinating this work with a local contractor, so no effort is required on the part of the residents, he said.
“We encourage all Banff homeowners to remove their fruit trees to help protect our local bear population and prevent potentially dangerous wildlife encounters,” said Hay.
Property owners interested in the free program are asked to email the Town of Banff’s environment team at [email protected] for information/support.
Campbell said both bear No. 122, and the other well-known mature male grizzly bear No. 136, also known as Split Lip, for his disfigured mouth, are both very old and will be looking for food in the most efficient, effective ways they can.
“Survival through the winter depends on a lot of successful foraging in the autumn,” she said.
A spokesperson for Parks Canada was not immediately available.