Saturday, June 4, 2016

Campers at Tunnel Mountain cautious after aggressive wolf incident

Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald
Two grey wolves from the Bow Valley wolf pack at Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court in the morning on June 2, 2016. Simon Ham/Parks Canada / Postmedia

BANFF — In the Tunnel Mountain campground, where a wolf boldly approached a campsite this week, some campers and hikers say they’ve noticed signs of the pack but aren’t too worried.

Rafael Leclair, who arrived from Edmonton on Thursday, said he and a friend saw a wolf between 4 and 5 p.m. when they drove up to the campground.

“All of a sudden one just crossed the road in front of us,” he said, noting it was near the Tunnel Mountain trailer court campground. They’re pretty big wolves.

“I’ve got a yellow lab and this thing probably has 40 pounds on him.”

Earlier this week, two of the five wolves in the Bow Valley pack entered the campground, forcing some campers into their truck and taking off with a loaf of bread.

It has led to concerns the wolf could continue to be aggressive, resulting in a warning for the Bow Valley.

Since the warning was issued, officials said two more incidents involving the pack have been reported along the Bow Valley Parkway — including a wolf following a cyclist and another running alongside a car.

It means there has been at least 15 concerning incidents with the highly visible Bow Valley wolf pack since January when three of the wolves were observed eating garbage in the Johnston Canyon parking lot.

Charges were laid against two construction companies in the Johnston Canyon incident, resulting in guilty pleas and fines of $1,000 each.

“They were charged with leaving the site in an unsatisfactory condition,” said Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager with Banff National Park.

It was the first known incident that caused a concern, but it’s expected there were others.

Hunt said the wolves continue to be extremely visible both along the Bow Valley Parkway and throughout the Banff townsite.

Hikers in the area hadn’t seen the wolves Friday, but at least one knew they were close.

“I heard them earlier, but I haven’t heard anything about the warning,” said Banff resident Ciara Domeji, who said she was only mildly concerned about the wolves during her hike. “I have bear spray and an air horn.”

There was also a noticeable presence of Parks Canada vehicles patrolling the area throughout the day.
Two of the five wolves in the pack are collared, and wildlife officials are in the field trying to dart and fit the remaining three wolves with GPS collars.

“Collaring has been unsuccessful so far,” Hunt said Friday afternoon. “We continue with that effort with a number of teams working in and around the Bow Valley.”

Hunt said they’ve spotted the wolves, but haven’t had an opportunity to catch them.

“They are covering a lot of ground; the pack is moving a lot,” he said, noting the two collared wolves are travelling from the Hillsdale Meadows area along the Bow Valley Parkway to town within two hours.

It’s believed that the wolves are going back and forth to a den site, where they would be feeding pups born earlier this spring.

Hunt said it’s still too early to say whether they will have to destroy one or more of the wolves.

“If it’s (the alpha male or female), whatever behaviours they are exhibiting could be picked up by the rest of the pack,” he said. “If it’s a yearling that’s exhibiting bad behaviour, they’re a stronger candidate for aversive conditioning.”

Aversive conditioning would involve using a team making noise and using paintball guns with chalk balls to get them out of an area.

“It would take a sustained effort to reinforce that, especially when you are up against a history of food reward,” he said.

Hunt reminded visitors not to keep their distance and not feed the wolves.

Campers in the Tunnel Mountain campground in Banff National Park on May 17, 2016.
Campers in the Tunnel Mountain campground in Banff National Park on May 17, 2016. Ted Rhodes / Calgary Herald
Back at the campground, campers said the aggressive wolf incident is a good reminder to keep their sites clean and their eyes open.

“We do that regardless,” said Calgarian Shae Rothery. “We’re always cautious when we are camping.
“It’s a good reminder for people to be on their toes.”

Leclair said that he’s also being cautious, but not overly concerned about the aggressive wolves.
“I’ve seen all kinds of stuff camping,” he said. “Unless it’s trying to get into my tent, I’m not too worried.

“This isn’t our first rodeo.”