By: Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh
Two people have been charged for unlawfully failing to have a domestic animal under physical control and unlawfully allowing a domestic animal to chase wildlife.
The action comes nearly four months after the Wabasso Lake Trail incident where an off-leash dog was first killed by a black bear, which resulted in the bear being destroyed.
During its investigation, Jasper National Park’s Human-Wildlife Coexistence and Law Enforcement teams conducted a thorough interview with the people involved and examined the scene.
“The hikers were very cooperative and provided supporting images of their story,” read a media statement from Jasper National Park.
The pair were visiting the area on a day trip when they decided to stop to take their dogs for a walk on Saturday, April 22. The party as a whole was on its return to the parking lot within a kilometre from the trailhead.
The two dogs, both off-leash at the time, were running back and forth between their owners (who were separated by a short distance) when they encountered the bear. The bear approached the lead hiker from several feet away while their back was turned. One of the dogs, a 13-kilogram Sheltie, engaged the bear.
The bear reportedly ran off a very short distance and started up a tree before returning to engage back. It soon had the dog in its mouth. Even though the people tried to deter the bear with bear spray and even hitting it on the head, it still managed to run off with its capture.
Parks officials were forced to close off Wabasso Lake Trail and several other areas including the trail between Valley of the Five and Old Fort Point while its human-wildlife coexistence staff spent the evening in search of the bear.
That search was still underway the following day. By mid-afternoon, the bear and the dog’s remains were discovered. It was then that the determination to destroy the bear was made.
“The [bear] exhibited the habituation to people. The proximity to the people was just too concerning a behaviour to let this bear persist,” said Dave Argument, Jasper National Park resource conservation manager, at the time.
It was a healthy mature male black bear weighing 92 kilograms and with no obvious health concerns.
As a result of the investigation, both individuals involved were charged with two counts of violating Section 5 of the National Parks of Canada Domestic Animals Regulations, which stipulates that every person who brings a domestic animal into a park shall have the animal under physical control at all times, ensuring also that the animal does not become a nuisance or chase, molest, bite or injure any person, other domestic animal or wildlife.
The individuals charged will be required to appear in court and could pay fines up to $25,000 under the Canada National Parks Act.
Parks Canada reminded everyone that all dogs must be on a leash no longer than three metres.
“This isn’t just to protect the wildlife; it is also to protect you, your dog and the public,” read the media statement.
“Wildlife are unpredictable; an off-leash dog can trigger aggressive behaviour from predators like bears, wolves or coyotes. Predators see free-running, off-leash dogs as competition or prey, and may either attack the dog, or follow the dog back to its owners or other people.”
Wildlife can lose their natural wariness of humans and become a public safety risk after repeated encounters with off-leash dogs. Hikers should also carry bear spray and know how to use it, travel in groups, make noise and be aware of surroundings.
People are asked to report any encounters or unusual bear behaviour to Parks Canada Dispatch at 780-852-6155.