by Ron Wiebe
and splendor of the mountains lure hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts to
the spectacular Kananaskis area every year. Against this scenic backdrop
last summer, Alberta's conservation officers embarked on a hide-and-seek
adventure that consumed them for almost a month and will not soon be
as two separate August adventures in the mountains of Kananaskis, ended
in a fight for survival for two outdoor enthusiasts. Pierre Richards
of Canmore and Jeffrey Fortin of Calgary both encountered the same bear
on two very separate days resulting in very similar terror-filled situations.
14, 2000 at 5 p.m., Pierre Richards and his friend Geoffrey Fowler mountain
biked up the trails in Canmore that lead to an area south of the Nordic
Centre Provincial Park. The ride was very steep and covered difficult
terrain. So steep was the descent portion of the trail, the cyclists
carried the bikes to the top of the run. From this point both Richards
and Fowler mounted their bikes and proceeded down the steep terrain,
trying to achieve their top speed and maximum pleasure.
steep trail tapered off a bit about one minute into the ride, Fowler
heard a noise to his left. Looking back he saw a grizzly bearing down
on him. Fowler was still travelling at a good speed, headed down the
winding trail. His front tire found a good-sized log that launched him
headlong down the path. He got up and continued running into the bush
and fell in a slight impression with the grizzly still right on his
tail. Behind him Richards was yelling and trying to get the bearÕs
attention. Fowler looked behind him and realized he was on the ground
and vulnerable. Fortunately for him the grizzly, not more than an arm's
length away, turned 180 degrees. The bear was headed for Richards. Fowler
continued down the trail for help, not stopping until he found someone
Richards watched the grizzly turn toward him with about 30 metres to
cover. Richards hopped on his mountain bike and tried to outrun the
bear. Within a short distance he changed direction and the bear knocked
him off his bike. He tried to fight the bear, using the bike as cover
and actually punched and yelled at the grizzly, to no avail. The grizzly
got the better of him and Richards was forced into playing dead Ñ
the bear's power was immense and unstoppable. Richards quit moving and
the grizzly stopped the attack. Richards knew he was hurt and alone
and needed to make it to help. He began the journey for aid by dragging
himself down the mountainside to an area within the Nordic Centre Provincial
on the scene was an employee of a local rental shop who grabbed a can
of pepper spray and bicycle and headed to the mauling location. Fortunately
he came across Richards and administered first aid without further incident
involving the bear.
afterward, conservation officers and RCMP arrived on the scene and extricated
Richards, who was taken to an ambulance waiting below. He was admitted
to the Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff where he underwent surgery
and received numerous stitches. Richards was in a lot of pain and swollen
up but still alive.
days later a similar set of events lead another pair of outdoor enthusiasts
into an event no less terrifying. This time the event transpired in
the Skogan Pass Area, around 22 kilometres away from the first mauling.
The terrain to get from one location to the next is mountainous and
27 at 11 a.m., two hikers, Stephen Miles and Jeffrey Fortin were walking
along Skogan Pass Trail. As they rounded a corner they saw before them
two grizzlies feeding on buffalo berries. Immediately one of the bears
saw them and began to charge the two men. Miles stumbled and fell to
the ground as he tripped on a rock. The grizzly, still charging, passed
Miles on the ground and headed for Fortin who was still fleeing from
the scene. Fortin received a swipe from the grizzly, which ripped the
strap off his day pack and spun him around. Fortin removed the pack
and threw it toward the bear and he dropped to the ground. The aggressive
grizzly sniffed at Fortin's pack and turned towards Miles, who had just
gotten up from his fall.
turned and jumped onto Miles. The attack lasted for 20 to 30 seconds,
an eternity as anyone involved in a traumatic incident knows. Miles
was yelling at the grizzly and it eventually stopped. The bear then
backed off and scanned over the two downed men. Then both grizzlies
fled the area.
looked over at his friend only a short distance away and knew he needed
help. He administered first aid to slow the bleeding and tried to remove
him from the area. They only made it a few hundred metres when they
decided Fortin would go for help and leave the mauled Miles on the hill.
With no bears in site Fortin headed down the hill towards Nakiska Ski
Resort and found the assistance of one of their staff members. Thanks
to them, Miles was then taken out of the area by truck. He was driven
to the Kananaskis Emergency Centre where onsite paramedics treated him.
With treatment and some stabilization Miles was then taken to the Foothills
Hospital in Calgary where he received surgery and numerous stitches.
Like Richards, he was lucky to be alive. Perhaps the only thing that
saved both men from the incredible strength of the grizzly was their
own submission and surrender.
did anyone know the two incidents would be as connected as they were.
Conservation officers spent hundreds of hours of often exhausting work
in order to determine this. From the time of the maulings and the final
capture of the grizzlies, to the trail closures (until November) which
protected these incredible bears, Alberta Environment staff worked diligently
to ensure no further incidents arose.
of Alberta's best-trained conservation officers, teams and resources
were created and pooled.
Team (BRT) leaders such as Officers Stan Hawes, Rocky Hornung, Randy
Flath, Dennis Urban, Keith Linderman, Egon Larsen and Kirk Olchoway
assembled their teams and worked long days. BRT leaders were responsible
for assembling each six-man team and overseeing daily operations as
they took their turn at working on a completely unique situation in
the mountains of Kananaskis.
and officer safety was a large concern and so was the safety of the
cases other conservation officers had responsibilities involving interviewing
witnesses and victims. They reviewed past and present occurrences, set
up the closures and worked closely with the BRT leader to ensure all
bases were covered. Media relations was a frontline issue as the reporters
tried to determine all that happened. This work consumed days of officer
Environment managers were kept abreast of the situation at all times
and were in touch with team leaders and other staff. Closed areas were
patrolled daily, yet some members of the public still chose to ignore
them. This resulted in prosecutions.
Environment utilized highly skilled staff in Edmonton which assisted
in DNA analysis to positively identify the bear or bears involved. It
was learned that the same grizzly was responsible for the mauling of
both Richards and Miles.
hundreds of hours of work coupled with many kilometres of travelling,
setting traps and snares and working from the early morning hours to
dark to find the grizzly responsible for the events. She was captured
by one of the BRTs on September 12 near the second mauling site. To
all involved the capture was a tremendous relief and success.
believed by BRT leaders the grizzly involved was a sow with two cubs.
The cubs were large in size, appearing almost as big as the sow when
free-ranging. They were around four years old and the sow in her late
teens. Upon capture, DNA samples were taken to Alberta Environment staff
in Edmonton and a positive match was found to both maulings. The sow
grizzly had initiated both attacks and was deemed a threat if released.
She was accepted by the Calgary Zoo and is believed to be fitting in
well and gaining weight with her high-protein diet.
however, were a different concern. They were both female and good candidates
to be a productive pair of breeding females for the mountain areas.
They were released into the Wind Valley area and were fitted with collars
and tags. Regular monitoring found the grizzly cubs had split up shortly
afterwards and began their new life in their old habitat areas. Biologists,
technicians and conservation officers alike have watched with anticipation
as these two cubs settled in, bringing a new future to the area. They
denned up late in November and now sleep peacefully as the mountains
watch them and look over them.
to all the staff involved, from the frontline up to the top, for making
the best of a very difficult summer. This summer and your help will
not be forgotten.
is a member of the Conservation Officers
of Alberta in