On Jan. 21, wildlife officials with Banff National Park received a report from a member of the public about the wolves from the five-member Bow Valley pack.
“That was a very concerning report,” said David Gummer, wildlife ecologist with Banff National Park, noting food conditioning could lead to aggressive behaviour toward people and ultimately the loss of the animal.
They immediately dispatched resource conservation staff and found evidence of what was reported.
“The wolves were no longer visible,” he said, “but there were two open construction bins for trade waste that had unfortunately been used for some human garbage as well that included food waste such as fast-food wrappers and cups and bottles and cans.
“Some of that had made its way on to the ground somehow and that was how the wolves were able to access it.”
The parking lot and the trail has been undergoing some improvements as part of an infrastructure investment announced last fall.
Gummer, who noted the construction bins were removed the next day, said it’s unknown how much food the wolves might have eaten before they left the area.
“It definitely seemed to be an attraction,” he said, noting the person who reported the incident provided a photo.
As a result, he said they will step up their monitoring of the pack to see whether there’s any evidence of the wolves repeating the behaviour of seeking out human food.
“It would be a very significant concern,” said Gummer, noting two of the wolves in the pack are now GPS collared so staff will be able to keep a close eye on them through electronic monitoring.
The wolves, he said, remained in the area for a few hours on Thursday and have since been reported throughout the Bow Valley.
“It’s now been a few days and we haven’t had any confirmed follow-up behaviour of concern,” he said. “So we’re crossing our fingers that that’s a good sign, but it’s too soon to say, really.”
Gummer said the wolf pack has been quite visible in recent months, but this is the first concerning incident.
“They are being quite tolerant of people,” he said, noting they have been closing areas and hazing the pack when they get too close to the townsite to keep them away from areas of high human use.
Parks Canada’s enforcement staff is also investigating the incident to determine whether any charges could be laid.
The fine for feeding wildlife in a national park carries a maximum penalty of $25,000.