Alberta Grizzly Bears in Trouble

Newly released information confirms that Alberta’s grizzly bear populations are below numbers considered to be sustainable by international standards. The Alberta provincial government announced the long-awaited Grizzly Bear DNA Population Estimate Report for an area north of Highway 16 is complete.
Combined with previous research, the government reports the population estimate of the all the areas studied so far is 581 bears, which remains worryingly low. Conservation organizations are eager to review this report and are calling on the provincial government to fully fund and immediately implement Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery strategy.
“The government has been postponing serious action to protect grizzly bears until this information was available,” says Carl Morrison, of Sierra Club Canada’s Action Grizzly Bear campaign. “Now that the numbers are in, it’s clear that urgent and concerted action is needed to recover Alberta’s bears.”
This report signifies the end of a five-year intensive study to determine how many grizzly bears remain on provincial lands. The study is one of the largest DNA-based population studies conducted, and the results represent the best available science regarding Alberta’s grizzly bear populations.
The government reports 353 grizzly bears occupy habitat from Highway 16 to near Grand Prairie. This is a slightly higher density than other regions of the province, but almost a quarter of this study area includes the Willmore Wilderness Park (4600 km2). This immense protected area prohibits motorized vehicles, has no developed facilities, and represents some of the last unexploited high quality wildlife habitat in Alberta. In addition, a significant portion of Jasper National Park and Kakwa Wildland Park were also included in this study area.
“The higher density of bears in this study area highlights the importance of parks and protected areas with limited motorized access for boosting grizzly numbers,” says Wendy Francis, Director of Conservation for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “Reducing road densities in critical grizzly habitat is a key action the province must take.”
In 2002 population estimates were less than 1,000 bears, and Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee recommended that the grizzly be listed as threatened. The government has so far failed to implement this recommendation. Now, after investing five years and millions of taxpayer dollars in state-of-the-art research, the government is further postponing this decision. Conservationists and biologists are requesting that the government immediately list Alberta’s grizzly bear population as threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. A threatened status will require the implementation of recovery strategies.
“With the new population data we have a more complete picture of Alberta’s grizzly population and it doesn’t look good,” says Nigel Douglas, Conservation Specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. “Albertans will not accept continued government delays on recovery; the time to act it now.”
“Grizzly bears are part of Alberta’s ‘wild’ cultural and social identity,” says Sarah Elmeligi, Senior Conservation Planner with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “A recent Canadian Press survey indicated that the public wants government action on the environment despite the recession.”
“The longer action on recovery is delayed, the cost and duration of recovery will increase,” says Jim Pissot of Defenders of Wildlife. “A dollar wisely spent now will save hundreds of recovery dollars later.”
Visit the Government of Alberta’s Sustainable Resource Development site for more information on Grizzly Bear Management.

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