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If you stop to look at these grizzlies, you could get slapped with a fine

Warming temperatures have uncovered a free lunch along the Bow Valley Parkway, and the area’s most opportunistic eaters have wasted no time bellying up to the bar. 

For the past few weeks, two grizzly bears, the Boss, and another known as Split Lip, have been frequenting a section of railway track along the highway, chowing down on grain spilled from trains that has accumulated over the winter. 

The bears, which have set social media abuzz — and drawn more people to pull over on the side of the road in an attempt to get a better look — have led Parks Canada to implement a no-stopping zone on the Bow Valley Parkway, which came into effect over the weekend. 

Violating the no-stopping zone carries hefty penalties, ranging from a $115 ticket to a $25,000 fine — and in some instances, a mandatory court appearance.

Charlie McLellan, acting wildlife ecologist in Lake Louise, Yoho, and Kootenay national parks, said the temporary measure was put in place to protect both the bears and those who may be tempted to stop and watch them.

He said at times since the bears have appeared in the area, he’s heard reports from staff of up to a dozen vehicles pulled over at the same time. 

“Unfortunately it’s not in the best location with the railway, as well as not a good spot to park along the highway, not much of a shoulder, so it’s kind of created an unsafe atmosphere,” said McLellan.

“People getting out of vehicles, even people on the railway, which is obviously concerning for both us and CP Rail, so these were some of the challenges we’re facing.”

A bear stands on the edge of a highway.
McLellan said that bears causing traffic pile ups on the Bow Valley Parkway is a common occurrence. (Andrew Johnson/Parks Canada)

McLellan said park officials can’t remove the grain because it’s dispersed in and around the tracks. 

He added that there have been bear-jams at this location in the past. The worry, he said, is that if a train startles a bear, the animal could run away toward people pulled over. 

“So we just don’t want any of those close encounters.” 

Aside from immediate safety concerns, McLellan said if bears are frequently in close proximity with humans, they can become habituated over time, which could cause a whole new host of problems. 

McLellan said so far, he isn’t aware of any violations of the no-stopping zone. 

Nick de Ruyter, the wildsmart program director with The Biosphere Institute, says the no-stopping zone is a good idea.

“There’s just more opportunity for a negative bear human interaction as people get close.”

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