By Peter A. Dettling
Although archeologists have determined that First Nations used the Canadian Rockies regularly for 11,000 years, the idea that bears, cougars and other ‘predators’ were vermin to be eliminated was a European notion that arrived with the explorers in the late 1700s. As the non-Native presence in the Rockies grew, over hunting brought these large carnivores to the brink of extinction, and also depleted the ungulate population including elk and moose.
Thanks to the creation of protected areas, re-introduction efforts, hunting restrictions and changing attitudes towards large carnivores, we now find all pre-European settlement species in the Rockies, except free roaming bison. But don’t take a grizzly or wolf sighting for granted. Seeing large animals in their natural habitat is a privilege.
Since you are a visitor in their home, treat animals with respect by giving them space to decide what to do and where to go. When viewing wildlife from your car, pull off of the road, shut off the engine and silently enjoy the sighting. Stay in your vehicle, especially when watching wolves or bears. It will ensure a safe and pleasant experience for both you and the animal you’re observing.
Wildlife sightings in our mountain parks are frequent and widespread occurrences. Elk are common. In fall, visit Vermillion Lakes, Lake Minnewanka Loop or Golf Course Dr near the town of Banff, or Athabasca River flats near Jasper, to see bugling elk. Your best chance to see bears is in early summer north of Lake Louise on Icefields Parkway’s avalanche slopes and in roadside dandelion patches, or beside Jasper’s Maligne Lake Road (Map 5, 5P). Elusive wolves can sometimes be spotted early summer west or south of the Jasper townsite. Kananaskis Country often hosts moose, bears and wolves.
Try walking scenic mountain trails to feel truly connected with your surroundings and yourself. It is especially exhilarating to see animals on slopes and meadows away from the road.
Editor’s Note: Peter Dettling owns Canmore’s Terra Magica gallery and is the author and photographer of The Will of the Land. Visit TerraMagica.ca for details on his award-winning work.