Mountain News 

Who's really responsible for the death of grizzly bear No. 8?

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta - Who's to blame for the death of No. 8, a grizzly bear in Banff National Park?

Parks Canada killed the six-year-old bear in late September after it stalked a mountain guide and his client, forcing them to climb a tree, with the bear in pursuit.

Wildlife managers in Parks Canada say the bear had a hand in his own demise. This summer, he chased cyclists, charged a wildlife officer armed with a shotgun, and even held a grain train hostage - although how that's done isn't exactly clear.

Managers told the Rocky Mountain Outlook they devoted hundreds of hours, using aversive conditioning to try to keep him out of trouble and, with the help of a radio collar, were able to track his whereabouts constantly.

"He truly believed he was the big bear and he could do anything he wanted to," said Hal Morrison, a human-wildlife conflict specialist in the Canadian Rockies.

Morrison said that the availability of grain along the Canadian Pacific railway had conditioned him to people, yielding a more aggressive stance. "Part of it is also his personality, and he was a six-year-old trying to test everything."

The bear had lost 20 pounds in the last few months, because of a poor berry crop, but appeared to be in very good health.

A local conservationist however, points the finger at Parks Canada and its policy of wanting to encouraged more use of Banff and other national parks when it comes to the bear's death.

"The bottom line from decades of research is that as you increase human activity, from hiking to industrial development, you negatively impact grizzly bears," said Jeff Gailus, author of "The Grizzly Manifesto."

"Like Frankenstein, bear No. 8 was something we created," said Gailus. "He became habituated because he had to live among so many people, and he became food-conditioned because of sloppy campers and residents and grain on the railway tracks."

Yellowstone National Park, he added, does it much better, by closing off a significant portion of the park, while still allowing access to large parts of the park.

The grizzly followed the mountain guide and his Japanese client as they went up the trail from Lake Louise toward Saddleback Pass. When it was apparent that the bear was stalking them, they climbed a tree. The bear got to within a few metres of them, but after several hours, it went on its way.

The guide said the killing of the bear devastated him. "I understand why, but I also know that he was just being a bear. I'm sad," said Barry Blanchard.


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