Wildlife experts in Kananaskis Country are asking the public to stay "bear-aware" in the weeks to come — warning that an increase in human visitors paired with the start of berry season could add up to more bear encounters.
Kananaskis Country senior park ecologist John Paczkowski said human use of the park is very high these days.
"I'm not sure if we're at record levels, but we're seeing really high human use," he said. "It's great that people are recreating here, but the levels are super high."
Down in the Bow Valley Provincial Park, the branches are thick with red buffaloberries.
Paczkowski said it's looking like a bumper crop this season for the berries, which thrive in sunny spots like trails, roads and recreation areas.
"That means your chances of interacting with a bear, who has his head down feeding on buffaloberries, is going to be a little bit higher," Paczkowski said.
Officials have already issued a number of bear warnings this year, Paczkowski said. Warnings usually happened when officials have repeated bear sightings in a certain area.
"With a bumper crop, we'll be seeing a lot more warnings and some more closures," he said.
Nick De Ruyter, the Wild Smart program director at the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, said hikers should ensure they make lots of noise and always carry bear spray.
"First thing is, know before you go. Be prepared before you leave the house," he said. "Find out where the warnings and closures are."
Hikers should travel in groups of four or more and keep dogs on leashes, De Ruyter said, while keeping an eye for scat or tracks and scratch marks on trees.
Paczkowksi said members of the public should always do their research, and ensure they aren't leaving out garbage or other bear attractants.
"Once you step out of your vehicle, you're in bear country, so you sort of have to be ready to have that encounter," he said.