Parks Canada staff believe a food-conditioned bear that posed a safety risk on the Chilkoot Trail was shot and killed Wednesday morning. The Canadian side of the popular hiking trail was closed Monday because of the bear. Parks Canada hopes to re-open the area by Sunday. Parks staff say this is the first incident of its kind on the Chilkoot Trail.
The 16 miles on the Canadian side of the 33-Mile trek were shut down after a black bear broke into a Parks staff cabin at Lindeman City and ransacked the food stores there. More than 20 hikers were evacuated from the Canadian part of the trail, and those on the U.S. side were turned back.
A team made up of Parks Canada staff and Yukon Conservation Officers tracked down and shot the bear Wednesday morning. Elise Maltinsky with Parks Canada says her agency takes wildlife protection seriously, and dispatching an animal only happens out of ‘absolute necessity.’
“A bear that has been habituated, you know, food habituated – this is a very unusual situation,” Maltinsky says. “And visitor safety is our utmost importance. A bear that’s exhibiting this behavior would continue to threaten facilities and put visitor safety at risk.”
A necropsy will be conducted on the bear to determine if it was the same animal that got into the cabin. Maltinsky says they collected hair samples from the break-in that will be DNA-tested and compared to the dispatched bear.
“At the same time a necropsy will be conducted and usually the stomach contents should also indicate that that was the bear that was feeding on processed foods and so on,” she says.
The re-opening of the trail depends on the results from the examination and cleaning and closure of two snare sites used to attract the bear. Parks staff wants to make sure the scent in those areas dissipates and does not draw other animals.
Ben Hayes is Chief of Interpretation for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, where the Chilkoot trail begins. He says an incident like this is ‘unprecedented.’
“Parks Canada’s been managing the Chilkoot Trail since 1974 and this is the first and only time a bear has broken into a cabin,” he says.
Hayes and Maltinsky say the bear’s behavior may be related to incidents on the Klondike Highway where people have been spotted feeding wildlife.
“Ultimately people are responsible in terms of a bear becoming habituated, perhaps outside of the park,” Hayes says. “And there have been a number of incidents along the South Klondike Highway. I’ve personally witnessed people encouraging bears to come up to their car and throwing food out. And those are the type of the behavior that leads to bears becoming habituated to human food and people.”
Hayes says dozens of hikers were scheduled to be on the trail that was made famous by the days of the Klondike Gold Rush. He says the Park Service has offered free camping in Dyea near Skagway to displaced hikers. And they’ve offered alternative hikes staying on the U.S. side of the trail.
Forty-two people are allowed on the trail at a time and reservations are required. Hayes says at the time of the trail closure the path was not up to its full capacity. But, a high number of people are scheduled to begin hikes Sunday.