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Banff reaps what it sows

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Imagine it's 10 years in the future. You're driving into Banff and you see a magnificent cougar at the side of the road. You stop the car, rush over to the cougar and pat it on the head as its animatronic arm creaks to and fro in a grotesque wave while a metallic voice drones, "Welcome to Banff, welcome to Banff" from a hole in its neck.

Sound crazy? This might just be the future of the Canadian wilderness in the wake of the hysteria surrounding the recent fatal mauling of a skier near Banff and the subsequent revenge killing of the cougar. Wild animals acting "wildly" is apparently inconvenient for the development-mad Banff crowd and the Calgary media that so slaver at their every ground-breaking fĂȘte.

The death of Frances Frost was a tragedy made worse by the fact the 30-year-old Canmore resident was an avid nature lover and environmentalist. Her death was unusual--the first recorded case of a cougar killing a human in Banff National Park and also a first for Alberta. Cougars are solitary animals that shun contact with humans. The only circumstance that heightens the likelihood of a human/cougar encounter is when prey (elk) is scarce--which in the case of Banff is certainly not a problem.

Therein lies the problem. Banff is a gorgeous, but ridiculously situated town that reaps what it sows. Only in such a place could someone live in a National Park yet still take offence when woken at five in the morning by an elk tipping over their garbage. Elk are abundant in town as they feed on the waste of an ever-expanding population and tourist industry; no wonder predators follow. It took no less than Sheila Copps to muzzle the maniacal developers who desire to turn Banff into West Edmonton Mall Part II.

The following quote, taken from a CBC report following the cougar attack, contained the following telling phrase concerning Banff: "Three hours later, a cougar was seen stalking a woman as she walked her schnauzer in the Middle Springs subdivision."

Frankly, schnauzers and subdivisions have no place in a town situated in the heart of the Canadian wilderness. They are entirely incompatible. In a town that owes its existence to the surrounding natural environment, residents and town businessmen suppress and subdue this environment and then are incredulous when it bites back.

It is not fair to Frost's family that she died in such a way and at such a young age. However, it is also unfair and short-sighted for residents and media to blame the cougar. We're in their territory, not the other way around. One can only hope that something positive comes from this tragedy. For starters it would be nice if would-be-Banff-developers and residents learn to appreciate rather than deny the implications of living in a habitat in which nature is supposed to dominate.

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