The Odaray Plateau: part of a vital wildlife corridor
On an unseasonably cold, blustery August day in 1992, a serious grizzly bear encounter occurred in the Lake O’Hara Valley. It happened in less time than it will take you to read about it. That incident led to a new management approach in this area.
Odaray Mountain and Plateau above Lake O'Hara© Parks Canada/Ed Robert/YNP Slide Collection (scanned in print)
A grizzly bear, surprised in its hurried descent off the Odaray Plateau, collides with a hiker, then bites and breaks the hiker’s shielding arm. No sooner is this first man pushed down by the bear’s soggy weight than a second man swings his camera at the bear. The wrestling bear is off the first man to counter the assault. A foolish match, the second man is down.
Husbands are shouting. Wives are shouting. A bear in confusion rises to see an adversary stumbling away downhill. The bear charges onto the first man again, biting at his head and using its weight to push him down.
Fortunately for all concerned, the bear, not unlike the people just wants it to be over.
The bear is gone; silence descends. The foursome who had drifted apart during their hike is left to deal with their new reality.
A whole book could be written about such brief and stark encounters. Most of that book would try to answer one "simple" question...Why?
Grizzly bear ‘captured’ by trail camera in McArthur Pass© Parks Canada/LLYK CD y#41/YNP Slide Collection
In reality the chance of such an encounter is extremely rare; nonetheless, the chance of an encounter is something we must all come to terms with when we set out to share the unique offerings of our National Parks. That is why the story changes focus here and moves to the larger issue of protecting bears, public safety and ecological integrity.
Because of our response to the Odaray Plateau incident, much has been learned about patterns of both human and wildlife use in the Lake O’Hara Valley. Initially in 1993, the light of uncertainty forced closures to Odaray Plateau. As information was gathered through research in the following years, some of the closures became travel restrictions, and the boundaries of the area under scrutiny changed shape along with the seasonal timings of closures and restrictions. Several trails were decommissioned. The ecological roles of the adjacent valleys, McArthur and Cataract Brook, were also re-examined.
We now realize that the Odaray Plateau is actually part of a vital wildlife corridor – one link in the chain of mountain passes that allow wildlife to cross the formidable Rocky Mountains: a precious geographic opportunity!
In 1999, after five years of study, the recommendations of the Lake O’Hara Research Project Steering Committee were implemented to foster the following much-considered objectives:
- To retain an effective wildlife corridor over McArthur Pass - Odaray Plateau.
- To improve habitat effectiveness of the Odaray Plateau area.
- To reduce the potential for bear-human conflict.
- To provide quality visitor opportunities.
- To ensure cost-effective administration.
Newly embraced concepts such as "human disturbance", "wildlife secure areas", "fragmented habitat", and "ecosystem-based management" require multi-disciplinary study by tiers of researchers, park managers, and park users from the widest variety of backgrounds.
To understand how you can shoulder your responsibility in this fascinating web of life you need to apply your love of the outdoors to such issues before you shoulder your pack. Most of all, go slow, think about your constant proximity to wildlife, and manage your hike for success without jeopardizing wildlife, friends or self. Remember: we are the intelligent beings.
If you are anticipating a visit to the Lake O’Hara complex, the latest in hiking protocols and regulations can be viewed at Exploring Lake O'Hara.