Editor: Three weeks ago, Brad Treat tore around a sharp bend on a forest trail near his Montana home. The mountain biker and forest service employee was travelling fast and silently, so that both Brad and the female grizzly bear were caught by surprise during the resulting collision.
The defensive mechanism, particularly the one of a grizzly mama with cubs, would have set in immediately during this encounter. Unfortunately, Brad did not survive this brief but intense confrontation with the bear.
Equally unfortunate is the fact that because of such encounters for which the cause is almost without exception faulty human behaviour, bears’ reputation will be further tarnished.
This is only one of many conflicts between mountain bikers and bears that has occurred over the past years in North America. It is very troubling that despite similar incidents in Banff park in the recent past, mountain biking is gaining in popularity and more and more illegal trails are being braided through bear habitat, without a sign by Parks Canada of curtailing this sport.
Even now, with sheperdia bushes loaded with berries left and right of the most popular mountain bike trails around our town, there is barely a sign anywhere that would request bikers to carry spray and warn them of the potential impact their activity might have on bears, on other wildlife and on themselves.
The opposite is true. A new bike trail is proposed from Jasper to Banff. Even though the trail is designed to follow the alignment of Highway 93 north, the road-sides are lined with bear foods for both black and grizzly bears throughout spring, summer and fall.
It is questionable if pepper spray could have saved Brad’s life, if he would have carried one. However, most bikers do not carry pepper spray and even with the spray, the impact of yet another human activity on bears and other wildlife would be tremendous.
During my initial years in Banff, I also used to ride trails. I stopped because it became clear to me what my impact on bears and other wildlife was. I also understood that I would be able to dramatically reduce my risk of such a high stress encounter with a bear.
Fact is, bears and bikes don’t mix. It is my hope that Parks Canada will not prioritize luxurious recreational human activities such as biking over the daily struggle of survival of the threatened Alberta grizzly bear in our treasured national parks.