Grizzly Bear in Banff National Park

Environmentalists demand province step up grizzly bear protection

With mortality rates for grizzlies unchanged and unsustainable for the third year in a row, environmentalists are demanding the province toughen up a bear management strategy they say isn’t working.

[Article courtesy of Calgary Herald , March 15, 2011, by Eva Ferguson] Alberta Sustainable Resources and Development has released grizzly bear mortality rates for 2010, with recorded totals still at 21, the same as last year, and one more than 2008’s total of 20.

But up to 40 per cent of grizzly deaths are estimated to go unreported every year, according to the province’s 2010 Status of the Alberta Grizzly Bear in Alberta.

That would bring total mortality estimates as high as 29 in Alberta in 2010, or 4.2 per cent of the grizzly population – significantly higher than the 2.8 per cent mortality rate suggested as sustainable in the same status report.

“We’ve known for a long time that grizzlies are in trouble – and it’s a clear sign that something is going wrong with the way we’re managing the landscape,” said Nigel Douglas, spokesman for the Alberta Wilderness Association, adding that grizzlies were listed as threatened last June.

“The threatened listing is meaningless if serious measures are not introduced to reduce grizzly bear mortality.

“We need to draw a line in the sand, and we need a commitment to do it, not just manage.”

Environmental groups argue the single greatest benefit would come from reducing motorized access into grizzly bear habitat.

“Now it is time to start addressing the problem that will actually result in recovery for grizzly bears on the ground: too much human access in grizzly bear habitat,” said Sarah Elmeligi, senior conservation planner for the Southern Alberta Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

“Reducing road densities and managing motorized access in Alberta’s foothills must be the focus of government action, and the continuing high levels of grizzly deaths make it more urgent than ever,” added Wendy Francis, program director of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

Douglas says the 2008 provincial grizzly recovery plan clearly links grizzly bears’ mortality to their proximity to human access routes.

That report says within the Alberta central Rockies ecosystem, 89 per cent of human-caused grizzly mortalities were within 500 metres of a road. In the national parks, 100 per-cent of human-caused mortalities were within 200 metres of a road.

Douglas suggests one way to reduce motorized access is to put gates on industrial roads, most leading to new gas wells or forestry cutblocks.

Grizzly Bear in Banff National Park
Photo from Calgary Herald courtesy of Banff National Park.

“Too often what should be private roads, just immediately become public,” says Douglas.

“The more we put people into contact with bears, the more the chances are that the bears will get killed.”

Alberta Sustainable Resource and Development Minister Mel Knight says he too is concerned that mortality rates have remained unchanged for three years.

But he adds that control efforts dealing with millions of hectares of habitat are a huge undertaking, and will take some time.

“We’re talking about 3.7 million hectares of habitat management. Controlling access into a region that size is serious business.”

Knight says he is also working with industrial operators to gate access roads, but the existing Public Lands Act doesn’t force them to.

“It’s difficult when that legislation was originally written to provide access to public lands, when we wanted people to be able to get out and explore.”

Knight says the province is looking to put more teeth into the Act so that industrial operators will have to put up gates.

The newly-launched BearSmart program is working to educate the public in methods to reduce conflicts with grizzlies, Knight adds. And the province is also working with Canadian Pacific Railway to reduce grain spillage on train tracks.

eferguson@calgaryherald.com

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