Grizzly Bear : struggling to survive in Alberta
Updated April 1, 2011
The grizzly is in deep trouble in Alberta. It is also under pressure in the National Parks bordering the province’s western boundary. Parks Canada must not allow development in its critical habitat and travel corridors.
Alberta : gross mismanagement of an iconic species
- The Alberta Government may have finally listed the grizzly bear as a ‘threatened species’ but shows no sign of protecting its habitat. This new status is useless unless the diminishing bear population has secure habitat for travel, feeding and rearing its cubs.
- The government has just given the green light to PetroCanada to build 11 gas wells, two pipelines and a gas battery in the Livingstone Grizzly Bear Management Area and Spray Lakes sawmills will be allowed to clear-cut trees in the Castle Grizzly Bear Management Area without any public consultation or forestry management plan.
- In 2002 there were estimated to be less than 500 grizzly bears of breeding age in the province and the government’s own Endangered Species Conservation Committee recommended they be listed as ‘threatened’.
- After dismissing the committee and also firing an outspoken biologist this same government, apart from putting a moratorium on trophy hunting following a public outcry, avoided making any decisions that would have halted the population decline.
- The moratorium was renewed each year and has just been renewed again for 2011. However, this is an annual decision by the government and the Minister for Sustainable Resource Development has said any section of the grizzly population that looks able to withstand a trophy hunt could still be subject to it. This ignores that any healthy part of the population could serve to repopulate adjacent areas with dwindling numbers.
- In 2009 a final count showed 691 grizzlies in the province – well below the 1000 judged to be the criteria for a ‘threatened species’. Only 359 of that total were adults of breeding age..
- Research has shown that the vast majority of grizzlies are killed within 500 m of a trail or seismic line. Closing down this spider’s web of access routes and disallowing new ones in critical habitat is the key to the bear’s survival – something which the government is so far refusing to do.
The threatened status announcement looks like a cynical attempt to fool the public into thinking the grizzly bear in Alberta is finally going to be protected when in fact nothing will be changed and the numbers will continue to decline until the great bear will just become a fading memory in this province.
Jasper National Park: a secure refuge?
With this gross failure of management by the provincial government probably the only place where grizzlies are marginally safer in Alberta is in the less than optimum habitat of the Rocky Mountain National Parks. They are going to need all the help they can get.
It is incumbent on Parks Canada to do everything possible to protect the bears under its care. They must have room to move, find mates and reach traditional feeding areas. The females must have secure, undisturbed areas in which to raise their cubs. This is not always the case for the 80 or 90 grizzlies in Jasper National Park.
- Fifty percent of the park is alpine rock and ice, and bears are seasonally forced to search for food lower down – either out on provincial lands or down in the Athabasca Valley in the centre of the park. Since 1980 eleven grizzlies have been killed on the Canadian National Railway in the park due primarily to grain leaking from the wheat trains heading from the prairies to the west coast. The spilled grain attracts ungulates which are frequently hit by the trains; black bears and grizzlies are then attracted by both the carcasses and the grain.
- The Three Valley Confluence (where the Maligne and Miette rivers meet the Athabasca river) is a critical feeding area for grizzlies in the spring elk-calving season and summer berry season. It is also an important travel corridor for grizzlies. However, this area has becoming increasingly fragmented by an extensive multi-use trail system catering to hikers, horse-riders and mountain bikers.
- Parks Canada has even turned a blind eye to the use by downhill bikers of trails in a grizzly travel corridor leading from the high country to the valley. The bikers access the trailhead high on the Marmot road by truck.
- Marmot Basin downhill ski area wants summer use on their lease. In spite of Parks Canada assuring the public in 1999 that no summer use was either ‘proposed or contemplated’ because of the presence of bears, this is now on the negotiating table. Grizzlies frequent the hill during the summer season and the 10 km road to Marmot runs through important grizzly habitat.
- Parks Canada’s changing direction of introducing new, and potentially inappropriate, activities to attract more visitors and seemingly abrogating its legislated first priority to protect wilderness and wildlife, spells trouble for wary species like the grizzly bear.
This magnificent animal whose territory once covered the whole of western Canada is now trying to eke out a living and find secure habitat to raise its cubs in what should be an area protected by the Canada National Parks Act and designated as a World Heritage Site.
Are we not even going to allow it to survive here?