Nahanni National Park Reserve is home to both black and grizzly bears. The narrow, linear shape of the park results in bears moving freely in and out of the park as they carry on their natural habits. Despite increasing numbers of visitors to this remarkable wilderness setting, instances of negative bear/human conflicts have been rare at Nahanni. There have been no reported injuries to humans from bears, although bears have damaged property on several occasions in an attempt to obtain food.
Throughout much of their range in North America, grizzly bears are under ever increasing pressure as human developments expand and recreational use of wilderness areas becomes more popular. Nahanni National Park Reserve has implemented a policy of area closure whenever grizzly bears are known to be in a particular area. This is done for the sole purpose of preventing human/bear interaction. Closing an area allows bears to go about their normal activities with as little interference from visitors as possible.
Most commonly, area closures occur at Rabbitkettle Lake. The Rabbitkettle Lake area is situated at the intersection of three major valleys, the South Nahanni River valley, the Rabbitkettle River valley and the Hole-in-the-Wall Creek valley. This area sees a high number of both black and grizzly bears moving through as the bears pursue sources of food. Several factors play a role in this being an important area for bears, and include:
- the effects of a forest fire in 1949 which has resulted in a varied and rich vegetation community, and a large volume of dead timber that provides wonderful habitat for insects.
- the intersection of three valleys allows relatively easy access to a variety of habitats at different elevations, where various types of vegetation come into season throughout the spring, summer and autumn for foraging bears.
Area closures at Rabbitkettle result in some visitors not being able to participate in an interpretive hike to the tufa mounds at Rabbitkettle Hotsprings. We regret any inconvenience if you are unable to experience this hike. We request your understanding and co-operation as we endeavour to minimize the negative impacts humans often have on bears. Temporary area closures will be advertised, with notices and maps being posted at the site and at points of entry to the park. In addition, all aircraft charter companies will be informed about area closures.
Various methods of deterring bears are available commercially. Please refer to the brochure You Are in Bear Country for detailed information on how to minimize the risk of a negative encounter with a bear. If you plan to bring chemical bear repellent with you, please note that you will not be permitted to transport it across the border into Canada. You must purchase repellent in Canada. In addition, always check with airline personnel to determine any restrictions with regards to transporting bear repellent on passenger aircraft.
Most negative human/bear interactions in Nahanni have occurred as a result of bears gaining access to food and equipment that was left unattended or was improperly stored. To minimize the potential for this type of occurrence, elevated food caches have been installed in all designated campgrounds (Rabbitkettle Lake, South Nahanni River at Rabbitkettle Lake, Virginia Falls, and Kraus Hotsprings). In addition, caches have been provided at the Rabbitkettle Lake warden cabin and at the river portage landing at Rabbitkettle. When a food cache is provided, it must be used for storage of all food and garbage, even if you will only be away for a few hours.
Keeping a Clean Campsite
The appropriate techniques for maintaining a clean campsite are included in the You Are in Bear Country brochure. This is of particular importance in Nahanni due to the linear nature of the park. The river corridor is essentially a "one-way trail." If you have an encounter with a bear that is conditioned to human garbage or food, it will probably be as a result of poor camping etiquette being practiced by a visitor group ahead of you. Similarly, the consequences of a sloppy campsite will be suffered by following groups. Please be aware of your actions and take the effort to be a responsible wilderness traveller.