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Visitor shoots and injures black bear

A file photo of a black bear eating grass. | Parks Canada/R.Bray photo

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter | reporter@fitzhugh.ca

Parks officials are still searching for a black bear that had been shot on the weekend approximately seven kilometres from the Sixth Bridge trailhead.

The shooter has been identified as a male tourist who is now facing several charges under the National Parks Act.

“He was obviously carrying an illegal firearm – illegal in that he was carrying in a national park – and encountered a bear on the trail at a distance of approximately 30 metres from him, fired what he described as a warning shot and didn’t see any response from the bear,” said Dave Argument, resource conservation manager for Jasper National Park. 

“He then fired a second shot that impacted the bear, caused it to fall down a short embankment into a creek bed that was separating the two. They were across the creek from each other. He lost sight of the bear and promptly left the scene.”

The bear was clearly injured, Argument added, as evidenced by blood in the creek bed. It was able to leave under its own power and Parks team members have spent “considerable time and effort” trying to track it down by following the blood trail into the very dense forest.

“It’s difficult terrain in terms of complexity and sightlines, which is significant when you’re trying to track an injured bear in close quarters. They put in considerable effort on the Saturday evening to try to track the bear down.”

Those efforts have since continued with a team of four sweeping the area combined variously with a drone and a helicopter-mounted infrared FLIR camera providing overhead views.

Argument said that if the bear has survived then it is still suffering and poses a risk to visitors. If it has already succumbed to its injuries, then there is still a danger. A carcass close to a popular trail might bring another bear to it.

“Obviously, the safety of both visitors and wildlife is our top priority here.”

The Overlander Trail will remain closed most likely until Aug. 11 for those search efforts.

Park wardens, joined by Human-Wildlife Coexistence team members, met with the individual to receive his initial statement on the incident. He was taken to the Jasper RCMP detachment for further questioning and to provide further evidence to aid in the search effort.

The investigation is ongoing. The individual has been charged under the Canada National Parks Act and will be required to attend a court date as yet to be determined.

Carrying a firearm in a national park is illegal.

“It poses obviously a threat to wildlife here and other park users,” Argument said.

He emphasized that bear spray is the best option for improving your safety while in bear country. Travelling in groups, making noise while in motion and staying alert and aware of your surroundings are also helpful tips, he continued, adding that visitors must respect that they are in a national park.

“This is the home of these wildlife. It’s our privilege to be able to offer Canadians (the) experience of traveling in this fantastic protected area, but we also need to understand that the wildlife that call this place home deserve some respect and the space to live their lives. We need to take the appropriate precautions to travel safely in this place.”

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