Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bear attack no deterrent to visitors

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TORNGAT MOUNTAINS, N.L. -- Hikers in the Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador weren't deterred by a recent polar bear attack that's driving a safety-policy review, says the park's superintendent.

Judy Rowell said visits continued to increase this summer as staff prepare to consider all options this fall and winter, including making armed bear guards mandatory.

There hasn't been a fatal polar bear attack since the park opened late in 2005, she said. But Parks Canada staff have always strongly recommended visitors hire Inuit guides through the Nunatsiavut base camp who are allowed to carry firearms in the park, she explained.

Lawyer Matt Dyer from Maine is recovering from neck and jaw injuries after a polar bear attacked him July 24 in his sleeping tent. He was with a group of hikers who had no armed guard but used a flare to scare the bear into dropping him.

Rowell said the most recent survey in the area about seven years ago counted or tagged more than 300 polar bears in the Davis Strait population, which is not considered endangered. Actual numbers are tough to gauge as the animals move through the region.

It's not really a question of if, but when, hikers will encounter one of the top-of-the-food-chain predators, Rowell added.

"That bear was likely hunting, the bear that attacked Matt Dyer."

Rowell said most people who visit the park's remote, spectacular landscape hire armed bear guards.

But one question is whether outfitters that supply hikers who go it alone are conveying Parks Canada warnings such protection is highly advised.

About 600 people visited the park last year and those numbers are increasing, Rowell said.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 A24

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