Evolution of Bear Management in the Mountain National Parks
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East entrance to Rocky Mountain Park, later Banff National Park, circa 1920© Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies/V263/NA-3436/Byron Harmon
Following the completion of the transcontinental railway, a small reserve is created around hot springs near the town of Banff. It marks the start of Canada’s national parks system and will become Banff National Park. A year later, other reserves are set aside west of the Continental Divide. They mark the establishment of Yoho and Glacier National Parks.
First park regulations outline protection and preservation of all game, but are not much regarded until about 1911 when they are more strongly enforced.
The park regulations are revised. A clause prohibits the killing or injuring of any wild animals – except predators such as wolves, coyotes, cougars, lynx, wolverine, hawks, eagles and bears.
Waterton Lakes National Park is established.
Banff townsite’s population is ~271 people.
The park regulations are again revised; all animals and birds are again protected.
The promotion of bear hunting in Glacier National Park is dropped from the Canadian Pacific Railway’s marketing literature.
Poaching is a major concern for park managers.
Jasper National Park is established.
The first fire and game guardians are hired and evolve into the full-time warden service. Revised park regulations direct wardens to destroy predators, considered “noxious, dangerous, and destructive animals”, control forest fires and enforce anti-poaching regulations.
The Dominion Forest Reserves and National Parks Act is passed. James Bernard Harkin becomes the first commissioner (1911-1936) of the new Dominion Parks Branch. Harkin spends the next 19 years working to create a National Parks Act to gain better protection for parks.
"The day will come when the population of Canada will be ten times as great as it is now, but the National Parks ensure that every Canadian, by right of citizenship, will still have free access to vast areas . . . in which the beauty of the landscape is protected from profanation, the natural wild animals, plants and forests preserved, and the peace and solitude of primeval nature retained."
James B. Harkin
Automobiles reach Rocky Mountains Park (later Banff) by road from Calgary. Park regulations no longer prohibit their use inside parks. A road is pushed west of Banff to Lake Louise by 1921. A road from Lake Louise reaches Field, B.C. in Yoho National Park in 1927.
With the advent of the automobile, people begin to feel safe – and bold around bears. It becomes popular to take photographs of friends and family feeding a begging bear. Bears quickly learn to identify people with food and, in turn, lose their wariness around people. When the cars are not around, bears enter campgrounds and towns to look for food.
Rocky Mountains Park’s Chief Game Guardian Howard Sibbald shoots and kills an old adult female black bear reported raiding camps. He turns her two cubs over to the Banff Zoo, which exists until 1937.
Wardens are authorized to destroy bears found within any park townsite. They also destroy ‘problem’ bears beyond townsites, citing no alternative.
Wardens are officially allowed to sell the pelts of any predators they kill in the line of duty, with the exception of bear skins, which must be turned in.
Kootenay National Park is created with promised construction of the Banff-Windermere Road (completed in 1923).
Hunting is made illegal in Yoho National Park.
The Edmonton Journal prints an article titled “Feeding Bears Popular Pastime at Jasper”, which promotes visiting Jasper to feed the bears.
Predators gain protection in National Parks.
A lone Jasper warden is killed by a sow grizzly bear with cubs near his patrol cabin in the Tonquin Valley.
Banff reports its first control kill of a grizzly for molesting horses and charging a warden.
Canada’s National Parks Act is established in legislation. The Dominion Parks are renamed Canadian National Parks. Rocky Mountains Park becomes Banff National Park.
A wheeled steel cage to catch and relocate bears is introduced as an alternative to shooting ‘problem’ bears in Yellowstone National Park (U.S.A.).
In response to a request for feedback about newly introduced bear traps in the U.S. Parks, Chief Park Warden for Yoho, Glacier and Mt. Revelstoke National Parks comments: “Bears which develop the garbage habit, soon degenerate into poor specimens and become troublesome. Viewing the bear situation from this angle, I think probably the annual ‘crime wave’ could be more effectively controlled by installing incinerators in all road camps and positively destroying all garbage.”
Construction of the Banff-Jasper Highway (1931-1940) provides increased access throughout the parks. As park visitation increases, so do bear-human conflicts.
Four grizzly bears are shot at a highway construction work camp dump at Hector Lake.
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