||Alberta has a Wolf Management Plan that calls for a
population of 50 wolves to be maintained in southwestern
Alberta. This plan is consistent with the interest of Parks
Canada for maintaining wolf populations as part of healthy
park ecosystems. The recovery of wolves in southern Alberta
is complicated by current hunting regulations. Albertans can
hunt wolves without a license for about nine months of the
year. Land owners can destroy wolves on or within five miles
of their land. There is also no quota on how many wolves
trappers can take each year.
The goal of managing a stable wolf population with
minimal conflict is further complicated by the many myths,
legends and misconceptions associated with them. Here are
some of the myths on both sides of the argument:
- Myth: Wolves are bloodthirsty killers who
waste more than they can eat.
Truth: Given the right conditions, wolves
will kill more than they can eat. Normally they
eat most of their kills. What is left is eaten by
ravens, chickadees, eagles, coyotes, bobcats and
Death in our society is usually feared and
ritualized. Often these human concepts are applied
to wildlife. We judge killing in nature to be
"good" or "bad" when in
reality death is a precondition for life. The act
of killing is necessary for the perpetuation of a
complex biological life system.
- Myth: Wolves don't have any real impact on
game populations; that's just an excuse for wolf
Truth: Wolves are carnivores. They need
and eat a lot of protein. Many studies have shown
that wolves can affect herd numbers, but the
situation is usually self-regulating. When prey
numbers decline, wolf numbers do too. When forage
conditions improve, the cycle reverses itself.
- Myth: Wolves will keep increasing until
there's no game in the country.
Truth: Wolves can breed prolifically,
but normally only the alpha female and alpha male
of a pack mate. Unlike domestic canines, they only
do so once a year. There is also a high death rate
amongst pups and juveniles. As roads and access
increase, wolves and other wildlife become more
vulnerable to human actions. The chance of wolves
greatly increasing anywhere in their natural range
is low. Even in Montana, where they are protected
by law, the population has hovered between 70 and
90 for several years.
- Myth: Wolves will slaughter all our cattle
Truth: In 1994, the Belly River wolf
pack raised seven pups within a half-kilometer of
150 cow-calf pairs. At the end of the summer,
livestock producers in the area confirmed that
they had recorded no losses to wolves. Research
has shown that wolf packs, while opportunistic,
tend to select prey for which they develop
expertise in hunting. If this is the case, it may
be possible to retain wolves that select wild prey
by choice, while destroying wolves that develop a
habit of hunting livestock. Ranchers and wolves
should be able to live together as long as there
is fair monetary compensation for lost live stock
and offending wolves are quickly identified and
- Myth: Wolves are cruel and kill for the fun
Truth: Wolves, like sport hunters, take
hunting very seriously. To enjoy the hunt is not
the same as being bloodthirsty; it is part of
being a predator. Wolves have to hunt to survive.
They do not catch everything they chase and they
can often go up to two weeks without eating.
- Myth: Wolves are a threat to our children.
Truth: No one has ever been attacked by
a healthy wolf in North America. Even in northern
areas, where managers have problems with people
hand feeding arctic wolves, there have been no
- Myth: If we have lived without wolves for
100 years why would we consider relocating them
Truth: The relocation of wolves into the
Waterton Lakes and Glacier ecosystems has never
happened, nor is it likely to occur in the future.
The natural expansion of wolves into both Alberta
and Montana is coming from the north and western
B.C. This natural expansion has occurred several
times over the last hundred years.
The protection of wolves in national parks alone will not
ensure their future survival. Wolves wander extensively
outside of Waterton Lakes and Glacier to find food and
shelter. For example, one of Glacier's radio collared wolves
traveled north, almost to the Yukon, in one winter! Each
year, as more habitat is lost and travel corridors close,
space for wolves and other wildlife shrinks.
Over the past century we have proven we can eradicate
wolves. The real challenge will be to see if we are wise
enough to listen to the howl of the wolf objectively and
find creative ways of sharing the landscapes we both depend
Cougar attacks on humans are rare. There have been two
incidents within Waterton Lakes National Park in the last
decade where a child received minor injuries. Females with
kittens and animals which are cornered, surprised or feeding
on a kill may act aggressively. Cougars often show curiosity
toward human activities without behaving aggressively.
Living in cougar country increases your chances of
observing one of these fascinating predators. It also comes
with some risks and responsibilities. Here are a few
important guidelines to reduce the risk of human injury and
help protect cougars by avoiding the stress of relocation or
the need to destroy an animal.
If you encounter a cougar at close range:
- Do not attract or feed wildlife, especially deer
and sheep. They are natural prey and may attract a
- Do not create attractive cover and feed for cougars
or their prey. Trim shrubs and small trees around
cabins to reduce density. Board up or fence decks,
verandas and crawlspaces. Exotic plants, lush
well-watered and fertilized lawns attract cougar
- Supervise children playing outdoors. Encourage them
to play in groups and away from dense vegetation.
Bring them in before dusk and keep them in before
full daylight. Talk to them about how to avoid
cougars and what to do if they encounter one.
- Pets left unattended outside may be attacked by
cougars. Keep pets leashed or kenneled. Bring pets
in at night or place them in a secure kennel with
- Travel in a group and make noise to avoid
surprising a cougar. Keep children close.
- stay calm, the cat will probably go away.
- Face the animal, retreat slowly, but do not run or
- immediately pick up small children; their small
size and quick motions may encourage aggression.
- Try to appear larger by holding your arms, or an
object such as a stick, above your head.
- Aggressive actions (shouting, waving a stick,
throwing rocks) toward an approaching cougar have
Management of a healthy population of grizzly bears in
Waterton Lakes is complicated by their large territory
requirements, their low reproductive rate, their defensive
nature and an increase in backcountry use.
Most visitors never see a bear, but all of the park is
bear country. Whether visitors plan to hike for days or
simply sightsee for a few hours, it is important to take the
time to learn about special precautions in bear country.
While a negative encounter with a bear in the park is a
possibility, statistically, waterfalls are more dangerous
Bears will usually move out of the way if they hear
people approaching. Making noise is an effective strategy.
Bells are not as useful as many people believe - talking
loudly, clapping hands, and calling out are more effective.
Sometimes trail conditions make it hard for bears to see,
hear, or smell approaching hikers. Hikers should be
particularly careful when hiking near a stream, against the
wind, or in dense vegetation. A blind corner or a rise in
the trail also requires special attention by hikers.
Watch for signs of bear activity - like tracks, torn up
logs, trampled vegetation, droppings and overturned rocks.
Bears spend a lot of time eating so avoid obvious feeding
areas like berry patches, cow parsnip thickets, or fields of
People should never intentionally get close to a bear.
Individual bears will react differently so you can't predict
their behaviour. A minimum safe distance is 150 to 300
metres (500 to 1000 ft), although there is no guarantee of
Here are a few suggestions when hiking in bear country:
If you encounter a grizzly at close range:
- Avoid hiking alone. Groups tend to make more noise
than single hikers.
- Make noise. Studies have shown the most effective
sound is the human voice. Shouting out, talking or
even singing will alert bears to your presence.
Bear bells are not loud enough.
- Keep dogs on a leash. Bears normally run from dogs,
but if the chase continues, the bear may turn on
the dog. The dog, now threatened, runs back to its
owner for protection. If some owners disobey the
leash regulation, dogs may no longer be allowed in
the backcountry, as in Glacier National Park.
- Avoid hiking at night. Lots of animals use trails
as travel corridors. Bears are often on them at
night, increasing your chances of meeting one. If
you are on a trail at dawn, dusk or at night it is
important to make more noise and carry a light.
- Never leave food or packs unattended. A curious
bear who is rewarded for its efforts becomes
bolder with each passing day. This leads to
problems for other hikers and eventually, death
for the bear.
- Learn all you can about bears. Every bear is
different and depending on its previous experience
with people will react in its own interest. Learn
to identify a black bear from a grizzly bear and
learn how to respond to each bear appropriately.
Please read the pamphlet `You are in bear country'
supplied by Parks Canada.
- Stay calm. Bears do not always charge. In fact,
they quite often stand on their hind legs to test
the wind and/or to get a better look. By talking
quietly, you can let the bear know what you are
and that you are not a threat.
- Avoid direct eye contact. Bears consider this an
aggressive act. Try to be as submissive as
possible and retreat slowly away from the bear.
- Do not run or make sudden movements. This may
initiate an attack.
- Play dead only in appropriate situations. Curl up
in a ball - covering your face, neck and abdomen -
only if attack is imminent, or if you are charged
by a bear. Keep your pack on. It may protect your
back and neck. Remain still until the bear leaves
the area. A bear charges because it feels
threatened. Studies indicate that those who fight
grizzlies receive the worst injuries. Bears feel
threatened if they are surprised at close range,
if they have cubs or if they are on a food source.
Do not play dead if the bear is looking for
- If the bear walks toward you, showing curiosity,
then slowly back away and drop items of clothing.
The bear may stop to investigate, giving you time
to retreat. "Bear spray" may come in
handy in this situation. The cayenne pepper in
these containers will irritate the eyes and lungs
of bears, giving you time to retreat.
All encounters with bears should be reported to the
Warden Service. The safety of others, and the bears
themselves, may depend on it.