Backcountry users beware: Bears are waking up, and they're hungry

It's that time of year when backcountry users need to start being mindful of bears.

They're starting to wake up from hibernation.

One of the largest grizzlies in the Bow Valley was spotted this week near Castle Junction. The bear — known as #122 — is one of the largest, most dominant grizzly bears in the Bow Valley.

"Anytime from early to mid-March is when we expect to see the first, big, male grizzly bear come out, so this year we're right on schedule," said Steve Michel, the human-wildlife conflict specialist at Banff National Park.

Robert Hughes spent Friday cross-country skiing near Canmore, Alta. He said he didn't come prepared as he still thinks it's a little early to worry about bears.

"No bear spray today because I think I'm safe, but last year I saw signs in the papers around here — bear sightings by the railways somewhere out there because the grain drops off," he said.

'Focused on feeding'

But Michel said although there is no real, exceptional concerns this time of year in terms of human safety, people in the backcountry can never be too careful.

"This time of year, there's very little food that's available in the landscape, so they're really focused just on feeding wherever they can find foraging opportunities," he said.

"That might be the first green grass and dandelions, things like that. Winter-killed ungulates like elk and deer that didn't survive the harsh winter, or any kind of attractant that's available to them as well."

Michel said the best way to be vigilant around bears is to: 

- Carry bear spray.

- Travel in groups.

- Make noise.

- Be careful about any attractants around your home or campsite.

- Keep a close eye on pets and children.

Michel says the other Bow Valley bears will wake up over the next month to six weeks.

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