Evacuated City Faces Influx of Bears

Wildlife officials believe wildfires pushed black bears into Yellowknife
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2023 2:35 PM CDT
Bears Roam Streets of Evacuated City
Wildfire smoke fills the air over Yellowknife on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.   (Bill Braden /The Canadian Press via AP)

Yellowknife, the capital of Canada's Northwest Territories, was evacuated earlier this month as a huge wildfire neared the city, but emergency workers stayed behind—and they have been joined by bears. The animals, apparently attracted by the smell of garbage left behind when residents rushed to leave, have been seen roaming the city's empty streets, the BBC reports. Bear sightings aren't unusual in a normal summer in Yellowknife, but wildlife officer James Williams says there was an increase in black bear sightings immediately after the evacuation order, reports CTV.

Williams says the fires may have pushed the bears toward the city and destroyed some of their usual food sources. He tells CTV that firefighters have also encountered bears. "On the fire line, there have been a couple of bear encounters that I can confirm, but they were just close encounters," he says. "A lot of the time the bear's more spooked than yourself when you are in their territory, you know, because they're just not used to having people come out of nowhere, especially in remote areas like where the fire crews are being dropped off by helicopters."

Williams says his team, assisted by other agencies including the Mounties, has been patrolling the city and surrounding trails. He says they usually try to trap and release bears but some that keep returning to the city have been put down. RCMP Corporal Matt Halstead tells MyTrueNorthNow that bears have been reported "deeper into the city and residential neighborhoods than we normally see." Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Atly said Tuesday that the fire has been successfully held back and the city is working towards allowing all 20,000 residents to return, but no date has been set, CTV reports. (Read more Northwest Territories stories.)

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