Alan Ernst came face-to-face with a grizzly bear after investigating noise outside his Nordegg-area lodge last week.
“I was flabbergasted,” recalled Ernst of his bear encounter at about 6:30 a.m. on May 11.
“I came out onto the main porch and he was standing maybe five metres away, at the corner of the lodge, turning over rocks.”
The grizzly appeared equally surprised to see Ernst, but “slowly sauntered off ” after the Aurum Lodge Resort co-owner clapped his hands to shoo it away.
“It obligingly backed off, (but) continued to roam around the property…”
When the grizzly began taking a keen interest in the lodge’s bear-proof garbage bin, Ernst said he had to use a bear banger to chase it away.
But the lumbering animal still did not leave the area — which ultimately sealed his fate.
After seeing the grizzly four times in one day, either feeding out in the open or near Hwy 11, digging for roots, Ernst wanted to erect signs, warning people. He notified Fish and Wildlife and later saw two bear traps had been set up.
On Thursday, Ernst spoke to a conservation officer and was told the grizzly had been trapped and “destroyed” after it was seen breaking into a wooden shed containing garbage at the helipad near Cline River.
Ernst feels sorry that the “non-aggressive” ursine wasn’t relocated.
“My impression was that this was a first-time offender, which had come out of the park or wilderness areas,” he said. “I am not a bear expert, but in my view this would have been a candidate for relocation, adverse conditioning, temporary area closure, to encourage it to move on…”
But the officer told Ernst the three-year-old grizzly had become habituated to humans and was coming out of the woods to sniff out people-produced food. “He said, ‘If they know they can find food somewhere, they will come back.’”
Ernst believes a fine balance needs to be struck whenever people are in the wilderness. “We know we are in bear country and have to be careful and respect that the bears have a right to be here.”
“That bear did not commit a crime,” he added, yet paid a high price — likely after first becoming attracted to campsite food.
With thousands of people set to invade the West Country this long weekend, Ernst hopes central Albertans will remember to put their edibles away and to leave their garbage inside their vehicles, so as not to attract bears and other wildlife.
“I’ve seen food left out on picnic tables… there’s no need for that. If people were more careful, bears wouldn’t be hanging around.”
The Alberta government’s Bearsmart program (alberta.ca/alberta-bearsmart-program) provides information about how to prevent bear trouble in the wilderness.
Ernst noted this grizzly is the second bear killed in less than a year in the Nordegg area. He said a black bear was put down in 2020 after losing its fear of humans.
Grizzly bears are still considered a threatened species in Alberta with an estimated 850 to 950 left in the province.
Although it’s unusual to see one in the Nordegg area, a recent study by the Foothills Research Institute shows the grizzly population has doubled in the foothills area east of Banff National Park, which has some people suggesting they be moved off the threatened species list.