March 2014: As British Columbia prepares for its annual spring grizzly bear hunting season, researchers are protesting that the hunting quotas put in place by the province are too high.
The British Columbia Government has cited that some sub-populations of bears have recovered, and therefore has opened up areas that have been closed to hunting, increasing the grizzly bear kill quota from 1,700 to 1,800. This is based on estimations by the Government of a population of around 13,000 to 14,000 grizzlies.
However, biologist at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of Victoria Paul Paquet argues that the data that has informed these estimates is inaccurate, as the methods used to collect it are outdated. Bear numbers are calculated by various techniques such as aerial surveys and traps that snag hairs of passing bears. “In many cases [the population estimate] will be based on assumptions that are maybe 10 years old,” explains Paquet, “None of this is easy, obviously. But we need to take account of the uncertainties.” Due to the way in which the data is collected, Paquet believes that the bear population could be as low as 8,000, or higher than 15,000.
Based on their findings the British Columbia Government has set a ‘maximum allowable mortality rate’ of 6 per cent of the grizzly population per year. However this mortality rate, put forward researchers, doesn’t take into account deaths by unnatural causes, such as road accidents and hunting, meaning that more bears die than the 6 per cent quoted by the Government, leading to ‘overkills’. In order to reduce the risk of overkills to a safe level, the researchers conclude that there needs to be an 81 per cent reduction of the target. “Because these are long-lived, slow-reproducing populations, they don’t necessarily recover from overkill,” Paquet explains.
Paquet along with Kyle Artelle – a conservation ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada – co-authored a letter sent to Science last week. A total of four leading scientific researchers, including Artelle and Paquet, have signed a letter questioning the province’s estimates and expanded killing zones. The concerned researchers also spoke to the journal Nature in an attempt to open the quota to debate and raise awareness of the issue.
Although the grizzly bear is listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act in the United States, it is not listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, and is not protected by the Canadian Government. British Columbia boasts a quarter of the population of all North American grizzlies, however the bear’s habitat in certain areas may be under threat. The province does have protected areas, including the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, but this area is under pressure from firms exploring the possibility of implementing a pipeline here. In the Purcell Mountains, there are plans to build a giant ski resort near the Jumbo Pass, which would threaten the north-south migration of the grizzlies.
Read our Field guide to grizzlies here, which has details on their habitat, threats, diet, and where to see them in the wild.
March 27, 2014 by Louisa Willcox,
LIVINGSTON, Mt.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans on Wednesday to strip Endangered Species Act protections from Yellowstone’s iconic grizzly bears later this year. The agency will release a proposed rule removing federal protections for the bears by the end of this year, and following a public-comment period will make a final decision, said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the Service. The move, announced at a meeting of grizzly bear managers in Jackson, Wyo., responds to a major push by Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to take over management of bears and enact sport hunts, much as they have with wolves.
“The science is clear — it’s simply way too soon to pull the plug on grizzly bear recovery,” said Louisa Willcox, a longtime advocate for grizzly bears and Northern Rockies representative of the Center for Biological Diversity. “With the lowest reproductive rate of any North American mammal, vanishing food sources and increased human-caused mortality, Yellowstone’s bears can’t withstand hunts led by states that are openly hostile to our few remaining large carnivores.”
The proposal comes at a time when key grizzly bear food sources in the heart of the Yellowstone ecosystem have been collapsing and grizzly mortality rates have been increasing. The dramatic decline of whitebark pine and Yellowstone cutthroat trout has prompted bears to eat more meat, such as big game gut piles and livestock, resulting in increases rates of conflict with humans and grizzly bear mortality. Drought and climate change will exacerbate these problems.
A 2009 interagency report recommended more than 70 ways to reduce conflicts, including requiring hunters to carry bear pepper spray, which is proven to be much more effective than a gun in repelling a charging bear. Other recommendations included improved grazing practices, rapid removal of hunted big game from the field and increased law enforcement.
“Unfortunately the government did not incorporate these recommendations in their policies and practices,” said Willcox. “Instead of delisting grizzlies, the government should take these practical steps to reduce conflicts and the high levels of grizzly bear mortality since 2007. It’s clear that current efforts to educate the public on how to avoid conflicts are not working.”
Yellowstone’s bears have long been isolated from other bear populations, forcing the government to keep them on permanent life support by trucking bears in to avoid inbreeding. This highlights the fact that, as a result of excessive killing and habitat destruction, grizzly bears occupy only about 1 percent of their former range in the lower 48 states. And in five of the seven remaining grizzly bear recovery zones, bears have either been exterminated or are perilously close to extinction.
“Without the protection of the Endangered Species Act, grizzly bears would not likely have survived in Yellowstone,” said Willcox, “and with the unraveling of their ecosystem, there’s no doubt they still need the federal safety net in the years to come.”
A new federal study suggests the grizzly population may have been declining by an average of 4 percent per year since 2008. A second independent analysis found that the agency’s population estimate for bears may be based on flawed assumptions that inflated total population numbers.
“The feds are bending to political pressure from the states rather than providing grizzly bears the additional breathing room they need to compensate for climate change and the loss of key foods,” said Willcox. “Now is not the time for the feds to walk away from Yellowstone grizzly bears and leave their fate up to three states that want to hunt them instead of save them from extinction.”
Grizzly bears are especially important as a measure of the health of the lands where they live. Where grizzly bears are healthy, so are an array of other species, from bighorn sheep to raptors.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
BY DAVID COLE COEUR D’ALENE PRESS
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) – The 20-year-old female grizzly Ethyl has become a seeker, a wanderer.
The Montana bear hasn’t been acting her age, and fortunately researchers – with a tracking collar – have been able to document her impressive journey from her home state to North Idaho. They lost track of her exact location in late December, but starting next month they expect to pick up her signal again.
They’re anxious to know where she ended up for hibernation, and where she’ll venture next.
Ethyl first came to the attention of wildlife scientists and researchers through her DNA, said Wayne Wakkinen, a senior wildlife research biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Bonners Ferry.
In 2004, a sample of Ethyl’s hair was collected around the South Fork of the Flathead River near Kalispell.
In September 2006, she was first captured after making herself at home in an apple orchard near Lake Blaine east of Kalispell.
She wasn’t threatening people at the orchard, but there are homes around and she was moved and released for her safety and the public’s. Better safe than sorry.
She wore a radio collar for the next six years, hung around her home range and stayed out of trouble, Wakkinen said.
In September 2012, she was picked up after finding her way to another apple orchard near Lake Blaine.
This time, in a bigger move, she was released east of the Hungry Horse Reservoir, with scientists hoping to break her habit of hitting up apple orchards in the fall.
The idea was to give her some quality country to roam around in and stay out of people’s fruit.
Since then she has done some roaming – lots of it, covering thousands of square miles.
In fact, in March of last year, Ethyl was spotted near the mouth of the Blackfoot River east of Missoula.
Throughout last summer she was north of Missoula. In mid-October, she made her way to the Rattlesnake on the north end of the city, and then journeyed west of town to the Nine Mile area west of Missoula.
Her tracking collar was “on the fritz” at this point, but still working enough, sending out some signals of her location, he said.
By the middle of November she had reached North Idaho and the upper reaches of the Coeur d’Alene River to the area of the Magee backcountry airstrip.
On Nov. 24, her tracking collar slipped into battery saving mode and stopped sending signals.
Still, scientists like Wakkinen could track her from the air with a receiver.
“I located her once, straight north of the Shoshone County Airport,” which is in Smelterville, Wakkinen said. She was on Thomas Hill, he said.
That was early December, when she should have been hibernating.
A week later she had moved east toward Osburn, and was hanging out in the upper end of Twomile Creek to the north of Interstate 90.
“Then we just had a bunch of crummy weather and couldn’t fly,” he said.
Though it was well into December, there were indications she still had not settled in for her winter sleep.
Instead, credible reports of her location came in based on sightings, he said.
She had ventured to the south side of I-90, and into the St. Joe River drainage. She was likely somewhere near Avery, he said.
“We don’t know if she denned up there,” he said.
Biologists won’t receive her definite location until April. That is when her tracking collar wakes up from its battery saving mode and her location is transmitted to researchers in Montana. Her collar is due to drop off in October.
Jason Kirchner, a spokesman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, said if Ethyl is in the St. Joe Ranger District in the Avery area, she is far outside where Forest Service biologists would expect to find a grizzly.
“Most grizzly we would expect to find would be north of Lake Pend Oreille or the Pend Oreille River,” Kirchner said.
Wakkinen is eager to learn where she has gone and ended up.
A typical female grizzly her age has a range of 60 to 100 square miles, he said.
“She has far exceeded that,” he said. “She’s moving through thousands of square miles.”
Last year was a great huckleberry year, he said, and that might help explain her endurance.
“She was able to keep laying on the calories,” he said.
Regardless, it’s just not normal grizzly bear behavior.
“It’s darn unusual, not unheard of, but certainly unusual,” he said.
Wakkinen said Ethyl’s final move by scientists from the orchard to the east side of Hungry Horse completely took her out of her home range.
“She has just been wandering around ever since,” he said.
She enjoyed the familiarity of her home range for 18 years. She had been tracked for a significant portion of that time period.
She has been quiet while in North Idaho.
While she was around the Silver Valley she behaved well, Wakkinen said.
“She stayed up high and out of trouble as far as we knew,” he said.
He and others were monitoring if she dropped down into any of the towns.
“We did know she was headed this way” last fall, Kellogg Police Chief David Wuolle said. “It’s nothing for me to be alarmed about until it shows up in town.”
There was a rumor she was hibernating near Kellogg High School, which turned out to be false. Closest she got, he heard, was Graham Mountain north of town.
“Which as the crow flies isn’t really that far away,” Wuolle said.
As a lifelong resident of the Silver Valley, he said word gets around from time to time that a grizzly wanders through. But with Ethyl, he’s impressed with just how far she has traveled.
“It kind of makes you wonder what’s on her mind,” he said.
by Lindsay Abrams
Ok, so you don’t feel bad about cows having to die in order for you to enjoy a hamburger. That’s fine — most people feel the same way. But what about the grizzly bears? Or the wolves? Or the 175 other species threatened by extinction? Would you keep eating that burger if you found out it was endangering all of those animals, too?
Well, would you?
A new campaign from the Center for Biological Diversity is presenting a broader perspective on the environmental damage wrought by the livestock industry. NPR has the scoop:
The conservation group says that some populations of grizzly bears and wolves have already been driven extinct by the livestock industry, and an additional 175 threatened or endangered species, like the prairie dog, could be next. Most of this drama is playing out on federal lands, where the needs of wildlife conflict with the needs of grazing cattle, says [population and sustainability director Stephanie Feldstein].
The federal government has for decades promoted and subsidized cattle grazing on 270 million acres of public lands in 11 Western states. According to Feldstein, one of the hot spots of livestock-wildlife conflict is predator species like wolves and bears preying on cattle.
The California grizzly subspecies, for example, was driven extinct in the 1920s by hunters assisting farmers and ranchers, according to historical documents at the University of California, Berkeley.
Ranchers also all but wiped out the Mexican gray wolf, the most endangered wolf species in the world, in the U.S. (A few survived in Mexico and in zoos, and scientists have been trying to bring them back through breeding, the group Defenders of Wildlife says.)
A study published back in January adds large carnivores, like pumas, lions and sea otters, to the list of meat industry casualties. All that, of course, comes along with the major impact our growing demand for meat has on the climate. Taken together, it’s worth considering whether that burger is, in fact, worth it.
BY JUDITH LAVOIE, MARCH 2014, FOCUS ONLINE
Studies call into question BC Liberals’ plans to expand bear hunting.
The magic of watching black bears overturning rocks and scooping up crabs on a Tofino beach, the once-in-a-lifetime excitement of seeing a Spirit Bear near Klemtu or witnessing the awe-inspiring power of grizzlies feeding on salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest are vignettes of BC that both tourists and residents carry close to their hearts.
So it is not surprising that a study by the Center for Responsible Travel at Stanford University in Washington concludes that live bears are worth more in cold, hard cash than dead bears. Not surprising, that is, to anyone except BC’s provincial government.
Instead of boosting the profitable business of bear viewing, the government is looking at extending the length of the spring black bear hunt and is re-opening the grizzly hunt in three areas of the Kootenays and one in the Cariboo—all formerly closed because of over-hunting.
Another indication of where provincial sympathies lie came during the first week of the spring sitting of the Legislature, when government introduced changes to the Wildlife Act—changes that will allow corporations, not just individuals, to hold guide outfitting areas, making it easier for a group of people to jointly purchase territories and reducing liability for individual owners. Assistant guides will no longer have to be licensed, allowing guide outfitters more flexibility during peak periods, something the industry says will reduce red tape.
Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson said in the Legislature, “Proposed amendments to the Wildlife Act will help provide the guide outfitting industry, an industry that generates $116 million in economic activity each year, with additional business certainty.”
What he didn’t note is that bear viewing is far more lucrative for BC. In 2012, the Center for Responsible Travel found that bear viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest generated 12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting and 11 times more in direct revenue for the BC government than bear hunting by guide outfitters—$7.3 million for bear viewing and $660,500 for non-resident and resident hunting combined. As for jobs, bear-viewing companies in the Great Bear are estimated to seasonally employ 510 people while guide outfitters generate only 11 jobs.
Despite such statistics and a growing antipathy to allowing well-heeled hunters to slaughter top predators for the sake of a rug on the floor or head on the wall (a 2013 poll found 88 per cent of BC residents opposed trophy hunting, up from 73 per cent in 2008), the government seems determined to expand the hunt.
Russ Markel of Outer Shores Expeditions, a company that takes tourists to wild areas of BC’s coast on a wooden schooner, feels trophy hunting adversely affects bear tourism, so expanding hunting could adversely affect his—and government—revenues. Markel can’t keep up with the demand for trips now, but an incident near Bella Coola last May left tourists shaken. “It was a horrible situation. People used the area for bear viewing and so the bears got used to it and then some random guy with a rifle turned up and a bear was killed,” he said.
The Guide Outfitters Association of BC, however, states: “Guide outfitting and wildlife viewing have co-existed for two decades and can continue to do so…It is important we separate the emotion from the science.”
But the science is not settled and there is long-standing controversy over the accuracy of population estimates and veracity of kill numbers.
Grizzly bears are listed federally as a species of special concern. Yet in BC, between 2001 and 2011, out of an estimated population of 15,000 bears, more than 3500 animals were killed, including 1200 females, according to a Raincoast Conservation Foundation study. More than 2800 of those animals, including 900 females, were killed by trophy hunters. Others were killed by poachers, accidents or conservation officers.
A Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations spokesman said in an email that the decision to re-open hunts is based on the best available science and is focused on areas where increasing grizzly populations can sustain a conservative hunt. A recent peer-reviewed study, co-authored by two provincial wildlife biologists, re-affirmed that grizzly populations are being sustainably managed.
But Raincoast Conservation senior scientist Paul Paquet scoffs at such claims. “Regional kill rates for sub-populations that are being hunted are much higher and not sustainable,” said Paquet, who co-authored a paper showing that, over the last decade, kills frequently exceeded targets.
As for black bears, the province estimates there are 120,000 to 160,000 black bears in BC and the harvest in 2012 was 3876—a number based on a sample survey of hunters—which is well below the sustainability level, said the ministry spokesman.
Raincoast Conservation executive director Chris Genovali questions the numbers and said kill numbers could be much higher. “They shouldn’t be considering extending the season when they have no reliable or accurate estimate of the number of black bears in BC. That’s disturbing,” he said.
NDP environment critic Spencer Chandra Herbert is also uncomfortable with government numbers. “Government does not have the evidence to back up what it’s doing because it has cut about 25 percent of the folks who would be out counting bears, looking at habitat issues, and enforcing poaching laws,” he said. But Chandra Herbert stopped short of committing the NDP to ending the trophy hunt. “We would actually do the science,” he said.
Growing awareness of the trophy hunt is fuelled by media pictures of slain bears and anyone picking up a hunting magazine is bombarded by images of jubilant hunters trying to make the animal they have just blown out of existence appear lifelike.
Barb Murray of Bears Matter, a group spearheading a petition asking the province to end the hunt, said, “We have wealthy people from the US and China coming to BC to kill our biggest and best.”
As pressure mounts for a close look at the ethics and rationale of trophy hunting, many question government’s insistence on continuing and expanding the hunt. Is it a leftover from the Liberal’s 2001 decision to immediately scrap an NDP-imposed moratorium on grizzly hunting or pressure from interest groups?
“Given widespread public disapproval for this ethically and culturally unacceptable trophy hunt, current provincial management of grizzlies seems to be driven more by bad political science than good biological science,” said Genovali.
Change may lie in the hands of First Nations. In 2012, Coastal First Nations banned trophy hunting in the territories of nine member nations—an area covering most of the Great Bear Rainforest—but the province continues to claim jurisdiction.
Heiltsuk tribal councillor Jess Housty hopes the recent economic study will bring change. “Last fall we learned the science used to justify the bear hunt is deeply flawed. Now we see the economics are completely backwards,” she said.
Coastal First Nations are trying to educate hunters, including approaching them in the field. “If the Coastal First Nations’ Bears Forever campaign has taught trophy hunters anything, I hope it’s that 9 out of 10 British Columbians support the Nations on the front line and that their unethical and unsustainable practice of killing bears for sport will no longer happen in the shadows,” Housty said.
The First Nations campaign complements Raincoast Conservation’s effort to buy up guide-outfitting licences, which, so far, has eliminated trophy hunting in about 30,000 square kilometres of the BC coast.
Another tactic is pressure on other countries. In 2004, after intense lobbying from NGOs, the European Union banned importation of grizzly bear parts and the ban stands today, despite challenges by the federal and provincial governments.
Meanwhile, Barb Murray of Bears Matter is pinning her hopes on local pressure. “The senseless killing of grizzly bears is morally indefensible and has no place in modern wildlife management practices and policies. Killing these magnificent creatures for sport and bragging rights does not, in any way, contribute to the conservation of the species or increased safety for humans,” says the petition going to Premier Christy Clark.
VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail, Sunday, Feb. 23 2014, 10:20 PM EST
The way professional wildlife photographer John Marriott sees it, the British Columbia government has just hung a target on Big Momma, a grizzly bear so huge – and so photogenic – that he calls her “a photo tour superstar.”
The female grizzly, who has silver-tipped dark brown fur and a perpetual pout that almost got her named Sad Face, lives in one of four wildlife management units the B.C.
government is planning to reopen to bear hunting this year. Mr. Marriott fears the big bear – a top attraction for the photography safaris he leads in the Chilcotin Mountains in the Cariboo – will be tracked down by a trophy hunter once the area is reopened.
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Grizzly bear kill limits being broken across B.C., study says
VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Nov. 06 2013
The B.C. government has long justified its controversial grizzly bear hunt by saying it’s based on sound science.
But new research by a team of biologists from three universities has found the kill limits are being exceeded in many areas of B.C. – up to 70 per cent of the time – because of unpredictable factors, such as bears getting killed in collisions with vehicles, or being shot by ranchers who don’t report the incidents.
“The bottom line is human-caused mortality from all sources, 85 per cent of which is hunting, is consistently over target. These overkills are frequent and they are geographically widespread,” said Chris Darimont, a conservation scientist at the University of Victoria, one of several authors on the study.
He said by allowing too many bears to be killed, the government is “playing Russian roulette” with B.C.’s vulnerable grizzly bears, because the population in some regions could easily get knocked down to a level from which it couldn’t recover.
“If I was managing bears I wouldn’t manage them this way if I wanted to have them here in the future,” said Dr. Darimont, who called for a more precautionary approach.
The B.C. government’s support for a trophy grizzly bear hunt has been under attack from environmental groups, and in 2004 the European Union banned the import of grizzly bear trophies from B.C., saying the hunt was not environmentally sound.
But the government has worked with an independent panel of grizzly bear scientists to set harvest limits intended to ensure the sustainability of bear populations. Under the strategy, the province is divided into more than 50 sub-zones, or grizzly bear population units, where the harvest levels vary, depending on the number of bears in the area, the estimated productivity of the population and the known number of bear mortalities.
“It’s very complex but we noted they didn’t incorporate all the dimensions of uncertainty in setting those limits,” Dr. Darimont said.
“You need to know a few things if you want to allocate how many bears will be killed,” he said. “You need to know how many bears there are … and for most of the province there are no on-the-ground estimates … you also need to know … how fast do bear populations grow and therefore how much can we skim off the top?”
To further complicate the picture, he said, the government needs to know the level of unreported mortalities, where bears are shot by people who don’t report the kills.
“Those are the three pieces of information the ministry needs to calculate the [harvest] limits,” Dr. Darimont said. “But any one of those things has tremendous uncertainty around them. How many bears are there? Who knows? How fast can they reproduce? Who knows? What’s the true level of unreported mortality? Who knows?”
By studying all the grizzly bear data available over about an eight-year period, the researchers from UVic, Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia developed simulations based on a range of population and mortality estimates. Using the provincial estimates, they found overkills in 19 per cent of the population units. But that number climbed when they factored in the range of uncertainty.
“We did the audit again and found that not in 19 per cent of cases, but closer to 70 per cent of cases, there were likely overkills,” Dr. Darimont said.
Kyle Artelle, a PhD student at SFU and lead author on the paper, said if the government wants to keep the level of risk of overkilling fairly low, it will have to eliminate hunting in about one-third of the population units.
In addition to their university affiliations, Dr. Darimont and Mr. Artelle both work for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, a non-profit which 10 years ago took the provincial government to court to get grizzly bear mortality data released. That data was the basis for the study.
METRONEWS, By Staff The Canadian Press, February 18, 2014
BANFF, Alta. – Why did the bear cross the road?
A new study suggests that at least one reason bears in Banff National Park are crossing the Trans-Canada Highway is to find mates — vindication for a series of wildlife crossings installed by Parks Canada on the busy route to try to keep bears on either side of it genetically linked.
“It is clear that male and female individuals using crossings structures are successfully migrating, breeding and moving genes across the roadway,” says the paper published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Britain’s national science academy.
The Trans-Canada Highway cuts through the heart of Banff National Park. For decades, scientists have been concerned that Canada’s busiest east-west road link was isolating grizzly and black bear populations on either side of it — especially after high wire fences were built along the road to reduce wildlife traffic deaths. So between 1982 and 1997, more than two dozen underground and overhead crossings were built to allow wildlife to move north-south.
In 2006, University of Montana ecologist Mike Sawaya began a three-year research project to see if the crossings were working. After analyzing DNA from nearly 10,000 hair samples collected from strategically placed strips of barbed wire, Sawaya has concluded that they are. Last summer, he published research proving that bears were using the crossings. His latest paper suggests they’re crossing for more than a patch of tasty berries. “We found enough movement and migration across the highway to infer that, yes, the crossing structures are allowing the transfer of genes.”
Sawaya said that grizzlies on either side of the road had been slowly becoming more genetically distinct from each other, although the effect wasn’t pronounced in black bears. DNA analysis of the hair samples shows that the two ursine neighbourhoods are gradually coming back together again. “The grizzly bear population was fragmented and we’re starting to see it be restored,” said Sawaya. “If the crossings continue to work the way they are, I think we’re going to see the dissolution of that genetic structure over time.”
The research team even documented how individual bears — both black and grizzly — were able to mate with a number of different females and wound up with offspring on both sides of the highway. Previous research conducted in California had suggested the only animals that use crossings are juveniles too young to breed. Sawaya found that wasn’t true. Almost half the black bears and more than one-quarter of the grizzlies that crossed were successful breeders. In fact, males who crossed most often seemed to be the ones with the most offspring.
And Sawaya said it’s probable that the crossings are being used by other animals such as wolves, lynx or cougars for the same purposes. “Certainly, you can draw more conclusions about other carnivores and other species that have similar characteristics. This is very indicative of how these crossing structures would perform for other large mammals.”
It’s good news for wildlife managers looking for ways to mitigate the effects of roads through wilderness.
Parks Canada now has a total of 44 Trans-Canada crossings in Banff, almost one every two kilometres. The solution was expensive — the overpasses cost about $1 million each — but Parks Canada carnivore specialist Jesse Whittington said they were worth it. “For the first couple years, they didn’t look like they worked very well,” he said. “Over time, grizzly bears have learned to use them on a regular basis.”
Whittington said the model has already been used in the U.S. for pronghorn antelope. “There are people looking to Banff from all over the globe to see how well these crossings are performing,” Sawaya said. “At the time, no one really knew they worked. They just assumed intuitively that they would … and it’s comforting to find that, yes, they are working as they were originally intended.”
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton
Conservationists protest after panel recommends ending bears’ endangered-species listing.
by Lauren Morello 21 January 2014
For the US government, the grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming embody a stunning success story: a population resurgent after 40 years of protection under the Endangered Species Act. More than 700 bears now roam the region, up from 136 in 1975, when the grizzly (Ursos arctos horribilis) was listed as threatened after decades of deadly clashes with ranchers, hunters and park visitors. But the US Fish and Wildlife Service is now expected to lift the legal safeguards, after a government advisory panel of wildlife officials endorsed delisting the bear last month.
Conservation groups have pushed back, saying that the government has underestimated the threat that climate change poses to the bears’ food supply, especially stands of whitebark pine. As the Yellowstone region has warmed, mountain pine beetles and blister rust fungus — once thwarted by the cold, dry climate — have devastated the trees, depriving grizzlies of energy-rich pine nuts. Moreover, say conservationists, invasive fish have crowded out native cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake at the heart of the park, reducing another important food source for the bears.
“We have an unprecedented situation with deteriorating foods, and an ecosystem that is unravelling,” says Louisa Willcox, the Northern Rockies representative at the Center for Biological Diversity in Livingston, Montana. The centre was one of several groups that sued the US government in 2007, following an earlier attempt to delist the bear. After two years, a district-court judge restored protection, citing concerns about the declining whitebark pine and its effect on the bears’ diet.
A report delivered in November by the US Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team describes a resilient and healthy bear population that has adapted to the loss of pine nuts by eating more elk and bison, keeping fat stores at levels that allow the bears to survive and reproduce. For Christopher Servheen, a biologist who oversees grizzly-bear recovery efforts at the Fish and Wildlife Service in Missoula, Montana, that is not surprising. “Bears are flexible,” he says. “It’s easier to say what they don’t eat than what they do eat.”
But other researchers suspect that the change carries a steep price. “Eating meat is hazardous on all fronts,” says David Mattson, an ecologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. A reliance on meat heightens the risk that adult bears will come into contact with humans, including livestock owners and hunters seeking elk, he says. For young bears, it may increase the frequency of potentially deadly interactions with aggressive adult male bears and wolves.
Critics also argue that the government is basing its decisions on flawed population estimates. A study published last July suggests that the government’s figure of 741 bears is inflated (D. F. Doak and K. Cutler Conserv. Lett. http://doi.org/q3d; 2013). The number of survey flights used to count bears has tripled since the mid-1990s, but, the study argues, the model used to extrapolate population figures from the flights’ tallies does not account for increased observation time. Further distortion may arise because the model assumes that female bears will reproduce consistently throughout their 30-year lives, with no decrease in fertilityas they age.
Mattson says that population estimates have in the past jumped by more than 100 bears when the statistical method has shifted. “There is no clean and simple way to estimate the size and trend of the Yellowstone population,” he says.
But those criticisms are rejected by Frank van Manen, a wildlife biologist with the US Geological Survey in Bozeman, Montana, who led the diet study. Observation time has increased, he says, but so has the grizzly bears’ range (see ‘Home on the range’), which cancels out any observer bias from increased search hours. And although the government’s official estimate of the population did jump from 629 to 741 bears this year, van Manen says that the new number is better. That is in part because the revision takes into account a 2011 demographic study of bear survival rates based on radio-collar tracking data — the first such study since 2002 — that gives biologists more confidence in their population surveys.
Servheen says that if the government were to decide to pursue delisting, as many expect, the decision would not be announced until late spring at the earliest. At that point, the Fish and Wildlife Service would open a 60-day public-comment period to seek reaction.
But even that is unlikely to be the last word on the grizzlies: conservation groups are already gearing up to sue. Perhaps the only point on which the US government and its opponents agree is that there will be more legal wrangling over the Yellowstone bears’ future. “It’s sad that it’s come to this,” says Servheen. “What it should be is a celebration.”
Nature 505, 465–466 (23 January 2014) doi:10.1038/505465a
Protect grizzly bears by banning the trophy hunt
Petition by Bears Matter Ltd.
Over 10,000 grizzly bears have been killed by trophy hunters between 1976 and 2012. More than one third (1/3) of grizzly bears killed by trophy hunters are female. In the Spring hunt female bears may be shot due to mistaken identity leaving their tiny 2-3 month old cubs to perish.
A recent report by the Centre for Responsible Tourism (CREST) in collaboration with Stanford University highlighted that bear viewing produces far more jobs and revenue than the grizzly bear trophy hunt, which costs more for the government to manage than it generates back in revenue. There is simply no scientific, ethical or economic rationale for the trophy hunt.
Honourable Premier Christy Clark, Provincial Government of British Columbia
Honourable Minister Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources
Honourable Minister Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training
Honourable Minster Mary Polak, Minister of Environment
As British Columbians, we live in a democracy where the government is duty-bound to heed the voices of the majority and not to pander to a small, vocal segment of the hunting community. As you are aware, opinion polls have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of British Columbians oppose the trophy hunt of grizzly bears. We urge your government to issue a province-wide ban on the…
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