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.
Although Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery plan 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 in 2004, it is largely not implemented. This lack of implantation threatens the future of grizzly bears in Alberta.
Albertans are proud of our world-class 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 tomorrow. There is room in Alberta for recreation, ranching, and resource development, but we also need to conserve and connect our best wildlife habitat as we manage our resources. That means using the best science for protecting the habitat which grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep, trout and other wildlife need to survive.
The biggest risks to grizzly bears in Alberta are: human-caused deaths from access roads and trails in grizzly bear habitat, habitat loss, and lack of connectivity between subpopulations. Although the provincial grizzly bear recovery plan identifies strategies to address these issues they are not being implemented.
The future of Alberta’s grizzly bears is a significant concern for 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 and mortality rates are unsustainably high in many areas of the province. Although grizzly bear populations in some areas appear to be doing well, they are still disconnected from adjacent populations and in many areas of Alberta continue to decline.
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. This increased 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.
The Alberta grizzly bear population is also 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 declines and disappearance. Expanding human settlement in grizzly bear range is likely to remove more grizzly habitat and/or further disrupt movement patterns.
CPAWS is a part of the The Grizzly Bear Coalition, which is comprised of a group of Environmental Non-government Organizations (ENGOs), including Y2Y, Wild Canada Conservation Alliance and others, that collaborate to strategize and address grizzly bear conservation in Alberta.
Implementation of the Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan 2008-2013 and land-use regulations in the SSRP that aid grizzly bear recovery are integral to recovering grizzly bears in the province. The CPAWS grizzly bear campaign focuses on five main areas of the recovery plan:
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. Currently, the Government of Alberta is drafting the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan (SSRP). CPAWS is actively engaged in the SSRP process providing feedback to government and encouraging people to get involved and voice their concerns.
The Red Deer, North Saskatchewan, Upper Athabasca and Upper Peace regional plans will also provide an opportunity 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, roadless areas) 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.
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.
The Government of Alberta will be hosting a series of public consultation sessions throughout the South Saskatchewan Region to gather feedback on the SSRP draft plan. CPAWS is encouraging all members of the public to attend one of these sessions and voice their concerns about land-uses that affect grizzly bear recovery in Alberta. Government information and resources for this process are located here .
You can also call, write or meet with your MLA about the urgent need for grizzly bear recovery in Alberta. Make your voice heard now!
The Canadian government is considering protecting grizzly bears as a “Species of Special Concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). To help Canada’s grizzlies write a letter today to the federal government about listing grizzlies under the Species at Risk Act. More information on the proposed grizzly bear listing can be found here.
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