The bear guardian program is made up of interpreters who prevent, monitor and manage bear jams. We also travel throughout the park and talk to visitors about the fascinating world of bears and how they can help bears survive in this challenging landscape.
For visitors who remain to view bears roadside, bear guardians stress the need for respectful and responsible viewing practices. This means asking visitors to provide bears with enough space to not interrupt their foraging or travel activities.
Top Ten Bear Guardian Questions
1. Why was the roadside Bear Guardian program created?
The roadside Bear Guardian program picks up from the Living With Wildlife program which began in 1997 as a partnership between the Friends of Banff and Parks Canada. The Bear Guardian program is run by Parks Canada. The objectives of the program remain the same:
- To patrol the roadways in Banff National Park to reduce the number and severity of bear jams;
- To reduce habituation of roadside bears; and
- To provide public education through informal roadside presentations.
2. What is a bear jam? Bear Jam © Parks Canada
A bear jam is a traffic jam created when motorists stop to view a roadside bear. Bear jams are dangerous traffic hazards. Getting too close to a bear – within 100 meters or 10 bus lengths – is also dangerous to your safety, and the bear’s.
3. Who are the Bear Guardians, and when are they out on the roads?
Bear Guardians© Parks Canada
The Bear Guardian crew is composed of six Parks Canada interpreters trained to manage bear jams and provide a personal link to park visitors. They are out on the roads 7 days a week from mid-June until the end of September.
Buffaloberry© Parks Canada
4. Why are bears attracted to the roadsides?
Roadsides create openings that support plants that flourish in sunny locations. Some of these plants are important seasonal bear foods, like the fruit of buffaloberry shrubs (Sheperdia) and dandelions.Grizzly Bear eating buffaloberries© Parks Canada
5. What is habituation?
Bears that become used to being around people are called habituated. They have lost their wariness due to repeated exposure to the sights, sounds and smell of people. Bears that travel or feed on natural bear foods beside the busy roads can become habituated. Thousands of people then stop to watch them all summer.
6. How does habituation hurt bears?Grizzly Bear and cubs © Parks Canada
Studies in Yellowstone National Park have shown that habituated grizzly bears are FOUR times more likely to die an early, human-caused death than wary, wild bears.
Research in the central Canadian Rockies found that most of the bears that died human-caused deaths in Banff and Yoho National Parks were within 500 metres of roads or 200 metres of trails.
Banff National Park has about 60 grizzly bears. Grizzly bears reproduce slowly as bear foods are scarce in this mountain environment. Births must balance deaths to sustain a population over time. Our greatest hope of maintaining bears on the landscape here lies in reducing human-caused bear deaths.Keep them ALIVE - Save a bear - Drive with care © Parks Canada
7. YOU can help keep Banff’s Bears WILD and ALIVE!
Keep them WILD - Save a bear - Don't stop and stare© Parks Canada
- Keep them ALIVE – Drive with care: obey the highway speed limits and be alert at all times for roadside animals that may dart out into the traffic.
- Keep them WILD – Don’t leave food or garbage out anywhere (at picnic areas, on the trail, in campgrounds, or even in Town) AND Don’t stop and stare (at roadside bears) . If you see a roadside bear, please slow down and drive by carefully. This way, the bear won’t get used to people and has a better chance of living a long life.
8. Are you ready for the BEAR CARE SWEAR?
You can become a Bear Guardian! All it takes is a commitment to reduce your personal impact on bears, and your honest declaration of the Bear Care Swear. Raise your right hand and recite the Bear Guardian Oath:
To save Banff's bears, we do declare,
We won't leave food out anywhere.
Because they're there, and wild, and rare,
We'll stay alert -- and drive with care.
And if we spot a roadside bear,
We'll slow down but... not stop and stare!
9. What’s your BEAR-AWARE IQ?
Bear Aware Quiz
1. To prepare for their winter hibernation, bears need to eat as much as ____ calories a day in the summer:
a) 1000-2000 (this is how much an adult human eats)
b) 6,000 (this is how much an adult Lion eats)
c) 35,000 (the number of calories in 63 hamburgers, or in 200,000 buffaloberries)
HINT: Banff’s bears are HUNGRY! This mountain habitat, with its cool temperatures and short growing seasons, does not provide bears with abundant, concentrated sources of calories. They have to spend most of their time eating or looking for food.
2. What percentage of a bear’s diet in Banff National Park is meat?
HINT: Although grizzly bears are capable of hunting and eating an elk, or even a moose, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains bears eat mostly fruits and vegetables.
3. What are the main foods for a HEALTHY bear in Banff National Park?
a) apple cores, barbecue grease, and toothpaste
b) berries, roots and leaves, bugs, and the occasional ground squirrel or elk
c) fish guts, peanuts, and banana peels
HINT: Bears that have become used to human presence and human food sources are FOUR TIMES more likely to die an early, human-caused death than wary, wild bears.
4. Banff National Park is big, 6641 square kilometres big. How many bears live here?
a) about 60 grizzly bears and 50-60 black bears
b) about 450 grizzly bears and 250 black bears
c) about 3000 grizzly bears and 5000 black bears
HINT: The Rocky Mountains are not an easy place for wildlife to make a living, so even though the park is big, it has a relatively small bear population (compare this to the number of people in the park each year: 3 million visitors plus 4.7 million who just drive through).
5. How long does a grizzly bear cub stay with its mom here in the mountain parks?
a) six months
b) one year
c) two years
d) up to five years
HINT: The cubs have to stay with their mothers for a long time to learn how to survive in this harsh mountain environment. Banff’s grizzly bears have the slowest reproduction rate known for grizzlies anywhere in North America, so it is difficult for our population to recover from even a few human-caused deaths a year.
6. Things YOU can do to keep Banff’s bears WILD and ALIVE:
a) make noise when hiking
b) never approach a bear
c) keep your dog on a leash
d) obey the speed limit
e) report any bear sightings
f) watch for fresh bear signs (e.g. scat, tracks)
g) slow down, but don’t stop, for a roadside bear
h) hike in a tight group of 4-6 or more
i) don’t leave out food, or things that smell like food
j) all of the above
HINT: The best thing we can ALL do for bears – and for our own safety – is to help them avoid encounters with us and to ensure we don’t allow them to get into our human food or garbage. Give them space!
Answers: 1. c, 2. c, 3. b, 4. a, 5. d, 6. j
10. What else is Parks Canada doing to help bears survive in the mountain national parks?
The Bear Guardian program is one way Parks Canada aims at helping visitors understand the survival needs of bears in this landscape. We also have many educational brochures available at any of our Visitor Information Centres such as our Bears and People or Keep the Wild in Wildlife brochures. We offer a variety of interpretive programs for our Park visitors, including evening shows at the campgrounds and the visitor centres. Keep your eyes out for interpreters out in the Park, and feel free to ask them questions!
B) Regulations, Closures & Enforcement
BEAR WARNINGS are posted in areas when there is known bear activity and the chance of an encounter is heightened. If people choose to enter these areas, they need to understand and apply all recommended bear safety precautions.
AREA CLOSURES are posted in places where bear activity poses a danger to visitors. It is illegal to enter a closed area and doing so will usually result in charges being laid. Proactive closures or restrictions are sometimes put in place in areas where there have been repeated bear-human conflicts (eg. prime seasonal bear habitat such as Aylmer Pass) to both protect visitors and minimize disturbance to bears feeding on key food sources such as berries.
Park staff regularly patrol campgrounds and day use areas to ensure proper storage of food and garbage. Coolers, pop cans, garbage and food bags should be locked away in your vehicle or in food lockers when not in use.
Improper food and garbage storage or feeding, approaching or harassing bears, are considered serious offences in the national parks because they cause habituation of bears and could lead to their destruction.
C) Parks Canada is creating more open habitat for bears away from roadsides by prescribed burning. Prescribed burns open up the forest, allowing new vegetation to grow, and create better bear habitat.
D) Parks Canada is also working to ensure that wildlife can move safely through the mountains with minimal human disturbance. We currently have 24 wildlife crossing structures that help wildlife to safely get across the Trans-Canada Highway and move through the landscape.
Visitor use is also managed to help give bears space and keep people safe. For example, the “group of 4” rule is in effect at Moraine Lake when bears are active in the area.
Some hiking areas such as Allenby Pass and Aylmer Pass may be closed or under restricted access during berry season to increase public safety and to minimize displacement of grizzly bears from prime food sources at a critical time of year.