Grizzly bears

Grizzly bears are an essential part of a healthy, fully functioning environment in Alberta. Their large home ranges make grizzlies an “umbrella” species for land use planning and management. This means that managing the landscape for grizzly bear populations also provides habitat for many other species, helps maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems and fisheries, and protects clean and abundant supplies of water for downstream users.

The Government of Alberta released the draft grizzly bear recovery plan for Alberta on June 1, 2016 (the public survey closed July 15, 2016). This plan will set the direction and implementation for grizzly bear recovery until 2021. Although Alberta’s existing grizzly bear recovery plan (2008-2013) was written by grizzly bear scientists with input from a team of committed citizens from a variety of sectors, and approved by the Alberta government, it has largely not been implemented.  Not implementing the plan threatens the future of grizzly bears in Alberta. The new plan needs on-the-ground actions to help recover grizzly bear populations in Alberta.

Albertans are proud of their wildlife. In particular, grizzly bears symbolize the wild and free spaces that Albertans and visitors value. We need to safeguard the long-term health and management of these iconic animals or we may not have them for future generations.  There is room in Alberta for recreation, ranching, and resource development, but we also need to conserve and connect our best wildlife habitats as we manage our resources. That means using science to protect the habitat which grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, trout and other wildlife need to survive.

See a video of our Conservation Director Katie Morrison talk about grizzly bears.

The threat

The biggest risks to grizzly bears in Alberta are:

  • human-caused deaths from access roads and trails in grizzly bear habitat
  • habitat loss
  • lack of connectivity between subpopulations

 Although the provincial grizzly bear recovery plan (2008-2013) identified strategies to address these issues they are not being implemented.

The future of Alberta’s grizzly bears is a significant concern to many Albertans. The Government of Alberta’s 2010 Status of the Grizzly Bear in Alberta report indicates that the grizzly bear population in Alberta is in trouble. The most recent provincial population estimates that the population of grizzly bears on public lands in Alberta is 760.  This relatively small population is becoming increasingly broken up into even smaller population units, many of which are fewer than 100 individuals. Death rates are unsustainably high in many areas of the province. Although grizzly bear populations appear to be doing well in some areas, they are still disconnected from adjacent populations. In many areas of Alberta they continue to decline.

The Alberta grizzly bear population is being fragmented into even smaller population units (<100 animals) that are becoming increasingly isolated by major human transportation corridors such as highways and human settlements.  Populations of this size are at significant risk of further decline and disappearance. Expanding human settlement in grizzly bear range is likely to remove more grizzly habitat and/or further disrupt movement patterns.

Grizzly bears face many threats on Alberta’s public and private lands. Human use of access roads and trails (specifically, motorized vehicle routes) in grizzly bear habitat is one of the primary threats to grizzly bears. Increasing access into bear habitat increases the frequency of contact between humans and bears. This results in increased grizzly bear deaths from poaching, self-defense kills, hunters mistakenly shooting grizzlies and wildlife-vehicle collisions. Attempting to prevent the use of existing road networks, even those officially closed by gates, signage and regulations, has proven ineffective. The solution is clear: reduce road densities to a sustainable level of 0.6 km/km2 in grizzly bear habitat.

In Southern Alberta, conflicts with bears on both public and private land continue to be a major issue. Problem bear issues are usually a result of improperly stored attractants, and therefore, improper storage of attractants represents one of the primary threats to grizzly bear persistence.

What CPAWS is doing

CPAWS is a part of the The Grizzly Bear Coalition, which is comprised of a group of Environmental Non-government Organizations (ENGOs) that collaborate to strategize and address grizzly bear conservation in Alberta.

CPAWS Southern Alberta is reviewing the draft grizzly bear recovery plan released on June 1, 2016 to ensure adequate resources are put in place for concrete actions to reduce risks to grizzly bears. A strong Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan and implementation of the plan are integral to recovering grizzly bears in the province.  The CPAWS grizzly bear campaign focuses on six main areas of the recovery plan:

  • Decrease roads and trails in the Eastern Slopes to below maximum densities for grizzly bears and maintain or restore security of grizzly bear habitat. In order to achieve this, more places in grizzly bear range will have to be protected, and activities will have to be carefully regulated. In particular, a maximum density of roads and other motorized travel corridors (trails, seismic lines and other cleared rights-of-way) need to be enforced within grizzly bear range. The draft plan only focuses on limits to public roads and excludes the effect of trails, so the draft plan essentially increases the number of roads and trails that may be built in core grizzly bear habitat.
  • Reduce grizzly bear deaths to below maximum numbers  for the entire provincial population and sub populations. The draft plan proposes an increase in acceptable mortality rates in the Castle and the Livingstone areas. Having higher tolerance for grizzly bear deaths in this region could prevent action on addressing issues like intense off-highway vehicle (OHV) use and logging in this important habitat. This may lead to grizzlies being displaced on to private lands. A large focus of the plan should be on supporting communities and ranchers in the Castle and Livingstone areas to reduce conflicts with bears.
  • Financial support to communities in grizzly bear range to implement strategies to reduce bear conflicts. 
  • Ensure connectivity between grizzly bear sub-populations in Alberta. Research suggests that grizzly bear population units should be at least 500-700 individuals.  Connecting populations isolated by human transportation corridors is essential for the survival of small subpopulations.
  • Achieve 1000 mature breeding adults in Alberta. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines identifies this as a minimum number of individuals to prevent unacceptable risk of decline. Alberta uses these guidelines to assess the status of endemic species.
  • Provide a meaningful, committed budget for the activities necessary to recover grizzly bears. The current lack of a dedicated budget means that recovery funding is certain from year to year and always under-resourced. This dramatically weakens what must be a multi-year effort.

Alberta’s ongoing Land-Use Framework process provides an ideal opportunity to include the management strategies for grizzly bear recovery into all relevant regional plans. Within the next few years the government will be drafting a Biodiversity Management Framework and a Linear Density Management Framework as part of the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP). CPAWS is actively engaged in this process providing feedback to government and encouraging people to get involved.

The Red Deer, North Saskatchewan, Upper Athabasca and Upper Peace regional plans provide opportunities to better address grizzly bear habitat needs. If these plans strictly limit road densities and provide adequate habitat security for grizzly bears (including large core areas with no roads) across their current range, they will secure a future for grizzly bears – and at the same time protect other natural resources that Albertans value, including clean drinking water, healthy fisheries and abundant game species.

CPAWS Southern Alberta Chapter is also working with Grizzly Research in the Rockies, a interdisciplinary research-based project that will create a series of management recommendations that maximize visitor satisfaction while minimizing impacts to grizzly bears resulting from recreationists on hiking trails throughout Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks. CPAWS SAB is helping Grizzly Reserach in the Rockies to recruit volunteers to work on data collection and entry, as well as to market and host a series of focus groups and public presentations sharing the preliminary results.

The Canadian government is also considering designating grizzly bears as a “Species of Special Concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). A designation of “Special Concern” is an important step towards preventing grizzlies from becoming endangered.  Once a species is listed, the federal government is required to create a comprehensive management plan, in consultation with the provinces, territories, and Aboriginal organizations.


Take Action

Help protect grizzly bears in Alberta
Help protect grizzly bears in Alberta
Let the Government know that partial protection of grizzly bears is not enough. Complete the online survey or express your concerns to Hon. Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks
Complete the survey or send a message

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