Title: Bear 139
Location & Date: Highwood Pass, Kananaskis Country | 2015
Camera Set-Up: Nikon D800 w/ 70-200 @ 200mm
Shutter Speed: 1/400th
Though Kananaskis Country in Alberta is seemingly turning into a weasel hotspot, it remains one of the best places to photograph grizzly bears outside of Alaska. What makes the encounters in this wilderness so special is that usually you can have them to yourself, meaning you’re free of people jumping out of their vehicles and dangerously approaching bears within a few feet for that perfect iPad selfie. On the other hand, it’s also an area managed by a group of rangers who too often demonize anyone who dares to watch a bear from the safety of their car (while being totally fine with people driving over 100km/h).
When we encountered bear 139 (I removed the ear tags, radio collar and ear antenna in Lightroom so you can appreciate what a beautiful animal it is), we stopped to snap a few shots, only to have an off-duty ranger speed in behind us, lay on his horn, and then speed away again. The bear retreated into the woods until the car was out of sight, before reappearing to continue its normal routine of grazing. We left, but have continued to wonder about Kananaskis’ management practices: What good did those few seconds of hazing really do? Force a small bear in a threatened population to stop finding – and burn – critical calories? Speed the bear up to run across the highway, giving drivers even less reaction time? Create bears that might run from humans, but might also become more aggressive toward people if encountered in the backcountry?
I know enforcement agents don’t design policy and I don’t doubt their heart is in the right place, but one has to believe a better balance can be struck that protects the bears and takes into account the realities of the region such as hunting, hiking, development and highways. Wildlife enthusiasts can and should be part of the solution – and in Kananaskis, we all need to come together to do better by the bears, including 139.