“These sightings are consistent with expected ecological responses to the amplified effects of climate change on high-latitude ecosystems,” said Douglas Clark, a conservation scientist at the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability.
“Our observations add to growing evidence that grizzlies are substantially increasing their range in northern Canada.”
Researchers said they observed the bears between 2011 and 2017 using motion-activated cameras.
During the observation period, which was done at the request of Parks Canada to investigate polar bear patterns, researchers recorded 366 polar bears, 25 black bears, and 10 grizzlies.
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What was new in the observations, said Clark, were the grizzlies.
“It’s likely that they will benefit the most because they have been known to dominate the other two species elsewhere, for instance eating both black bears and polar bears, or displacing them,” he said.
However, Clark said, large black bears could have the upper hand when encountering a young grizzly, while smaller species of bears will modify their behaviour to avoid grizzlies.
Clark said the big question is how the interactions will affect bear conservation and management efforts.
He said the overlap could be due to climate change as bears seek out new or expanded habitats for food sources.
“This range overlap shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to any of these bears, but should be understood as an ecological response to environmental change.”
He added Wapusk is at the convergence of the boreal forest, tundra, and ocean ecosystems that are all changing quickly with climate change.
Brown bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park July 1, 2015 feast on sockeye s
The stark images of malnourished grizzly bears on the coast of British Columbia, Canada, have garnered widespread international media attention. The photographs are difficult to view and strike a chord of deep concern in most people.
Raincoast Conservation Foundation has long advocated for a wildlife welfare ethic when it comes to the conservation and management of large carnivores. This approach becomes even more compelling when the life requisites, in this case wild salmon, of species such as coastal grizzlies are diminished as a result of human activities.
Much of the news coverage associated with the aforementioned situation has been linked to climate change, but this particular salmon run collapse is likely the result of a suite of influences, not the least of which is the failure to protect wild salmon in British Columbia from fishing pressure, habitat degradation, hatchery impacts, fish farms and more.
Wild salmon and grizzly bears have an intertwined relationship and the choices we make are inextricably linked to their fates. When salmon are plentiful in coastal streams, bears thrive and produce more cubs. Grizzlies also occur at higher densities and grow to larger sizes when salmon are abundant. Importantly, when salmon are plentiful, bears eat less of each fish, selecting the nutrient-rich brains and eggs and casting aside the remainder. These salmon remains then feed other animals, scavengers and fertilize the adjacent streamside zone. Thus, abundant salmon boosts the amount and value of food for bears, as well as transfers more nutrients and energy to other wild consumers.
In contrast, when salmon are scarce, grizzlies produce fewer cubs, if any, and eat more of each individual fish. Less discarded salmon enters the surrounding ecosystem with diminished benefits for other wildlife, plants, and less visible organisms such as fungi, algae, and insects. Commercial salmon fisheries typically extract 50% or more of the salmon bound for rivers, bears and forests. When the number of salmon returning to spawn from their ocean migration is variable, fishery managers favor the short-term benefit of harvest, even when salmon abundance is low and even if it means forgoing larger harvests in the future. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans manages for spawner persistence, not for healthy, abundant spawning runs.
Despite the knowledge that many species depend on salmon, humans have never managed fisheries with wildlife in mind.
Whether it’s bears, wolves or whales, many coastal species have evolved to rely on annual returns of Pacific salmon. But how are the food needs of these animals considered in fisheries management or the benefits of salmon managed for coastal ecosystems? Bottom line: they aren’t.
Contemporary thinking in conservation science instructs salmon management to include the bears, whales and other wildlife that have an evolutionary reliance on the annual pulse of nutrients and food energy delivered via spawning salmon. Even Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy recognizes the need for management to transcend salmon ‘production’ alone and consider the needs of terrestrial species.
For this policy to be consequential, however, it requires fisheries managers to consider bears and other wildlife by lowering catches and allowing more salmon to reach the rivers to spawn. Currently, humans engage in what ecologists call “exploitative competition,” — we capture salmon en route to spawning grounds before they can reach awaiting carnivores. Even salmon runs that spawn in protected watersheds and parks are subjected to exploitation by commercial fisheries. Often, these parks were created to protect species such as grizzlies, black bears and wolves. As such, we suspect that grizzly bears now receive a fraction of the salmon they evolved with, which ultimately manifests in population declines through repeated years of low birth rates.
In some areas, we believe it is time to establish truly protected salmon runs – runs that would be managed solely for their importance to wildlife and ecosystems. This would allow salmon to return to spawning grounds without encountering the nets and hooks of the Pacific salmon fleet. And those fish would then spawn in rivers that flow naturally without their watersheds logged, developed or otherwise impaired.
Of course, it is not just fishing nets and hooks that rob wildlife of their energy needs. Degraded freshwater and marine habitat, fish farms and disease, dams and diversions, hatcheries and genetic dilution, climate change and changing ocean conditions, all influence salmon abundance. Human generated impacts that reduce salmon abundance must be addressed. However, reducing, and in some cases eliminating, exploitation from fisheries would have an immediate, positive effect on coastal wildlife.
Chris Genovali is executive director of Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Misty MacDuffee is Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program Director and Paul Paquet is Raincoast’s senior scientist.
A grizzly bear catches a salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest.
Photograph By LARRY TRAVIS/RAINCOAST
The stark images of malnourished grizzly bears on the coast of British Columbia have garnered widespread media attention. The photographs are difficult to view and strike a chord of deep concern in most people.
Raincoast Conservation Foundation has long advocated for a wildlife welfare ethic when it comes to the conservation and management of large carnivores. This approach becomes even more compelling when the life requisites, in this case wild salmon, of species such as coastal grizzlies are diminished as a result of human activities.
Much of the news coverage associated with the aforementioned situation has been linked to climate change, but this particular salmon-run collapse is likely the result of a suite of influences, not the least of which is the failure to protect wild salmon in B.C. from fishing pressure, habitat degradation, hatchery impacts, fish farms and more.
Wild salmon and grizzly bears have an intertwined relationship, and the choices we make are inextricably linked to their fates. When salmon are plentiful in coastal streams, bears thrive and produce more cubs. Grizzlies also occur at higher densities and grow to larger sizes when salmon are abundant.
Importantly, when salmon are plentiful, bears eat less of each fish, selecting the nutrient-rich brains and eggs and casting aside the remainder. These salmon remains then feed other animals, scavengers, and fertilize the adjacent streamside zone. Thus, abundant salmon boosts the amount and value of food for bears, as well as transfers more nutrients and energy to other wild consumers.
In contrast, when salmon are scarce, grizzlies produce fewer cubs, if any, and eat more of each individual fish. Less discarded salmon enters the surrounding ecosystem with diminished benefits for other wildlife, plants and less-visible organisms such as fungi, algae and insects. Commercial salmon fisheries typically extract 50 per cent or more of the salmon bound for rivers, bears and forests.
When the number of salmon returning to spawn from their ocean migration is variable, fishery managers favour the short-term benefit of harvest, even when salmon abundance is low and even if it means forgoing larger harvests in the future. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans manages for spawner persistence, not for healthy, abundant spawning runs.
Despite the knowledge that many species depend on salmon, fisheries have never been managed with wildlife in mind.
Whether its bears, wolves or whales, many coastal species have evolved to rely on annual returns of Pacific salmon. But how are the food needs of these animals considered in fisheries management or the benefits of salmon managed for coastal ecosystems? Bottom line: they aren’t.
Contemporary thinking in conservation science instructs salmon management to include the bears, whales and other wildlife that have an evolutionary reliance on the annual pulse of nutrients and food energy delivered via spawning salmon. Even Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy recognizes the need for management to transcend salmon “production” alone and consider the needs of terrestrial species.
For this policy to be consequential however, it requires fisheries managers to consider bears and other wildlife by lowering catches and allowing more salmon to reach the rivers to spawn. Currently, humans engage in what ecologists call “exploitative competition,” i.e. we capture salmon en route to spawning grounds before they can reach awaiting carnivores.
Even salmon runs that spawn in protected watersheds and parks are subjected to exploitation by commercial fisheries. Often, these parks were created to protect species such as grizzlies, black bears and wolves. As such, we suspect that grizzly bears now receive a fraction of the salmon they evolved with, which ultimately manifests in population declines through repeated years of low birth rates.
In some areas, we believe it is time to establish truly protected salmon runs — runs that would be managed solely for their importance to wildlife and ecosystems. This would allow salmon to return to spawning grounds without encountering the nets and hooks of the Pacific salmon fleet. And those fish would then spawn in rivers that flow naturally without their watersheds logged, developed or otherwise impaired.
Of course, it is not just fishing nets and hooks that rob wildlife of their energy needs. Degraded freshwater and marine habitat, fish farms and disease, dams and diversions, hatcheries and genetic dilution, climate change and changing ocean conditions, all influence salmon abundance. Human-generated impacts that reduce salmon abundance must be addressed. However, reducing, and in some cases eliminating, exploitation from fisheries would have an immediate, positive effect on coastal wildlife.
Chris Genovali is executive director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Misty MacDuffee is Raincoast’s Wild Salmon Program director and Paul C. Paquet is Raincoast’s senior scientist.
The Rolling Stone Ranch lies behind a cluster of deciduous trees on the open, undulating plains of Montana’s Blackfoot Valley. Its green barns sit just outside the tiny town of Ovando, which is home to about 80 residents. As a crisp autumn breeze swept by in early October, Jim Stone, the ranch’s owner, greeted me in front of his house with a firm handshake. From his kitchen, he gazed out the window overlooking the valley and gestured across Highway 200. “My neighbor has 13 grizzly bears on his property,” a 21,000-acre spread, he told me. Just two decades ago, that many bears would have been rare.
To protect their livestock from the booming bear population, many local cattle ranchers have installed electric fences. They require less maintenance than barbed wire does and are safer for migrating elk, Stone explained. Since improving his fencing, he no longer has to worry about grizzlies killing his cows and calves.
As grizzlies continue to expand their range in Montana, more communities will have to face the question of how to coexist with them. Strategies such as installing electric fences, distributing special garbage cans, and encouraging communities to share the lessons they learn can help. But the most effective solution may be one of the hardest to achieve: trust between rural landowners and government agencies.
Back in the early 1800s, there were more than 50,000 grizzlies in the Lower 48. But by 1975, after years of hunting and habitat destruction, the population had dwindled to fewer than 1,000, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. With federal protections in place, grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide in northwestern Montana have flourished. Currently, there are approximately 1,000 bears in the area, the largest population in the United States outside Alaska. As a result of this rebound, the federal government considered delisting the population, though that process is now paused in light of last year’s court decision to restore federal protections for grizzlies in and around Yellowstone.
But the grizzly boom has brought with it a rise in human-bear conflicts. In September, for example, four hunters were injured in three separate attacks in southwestern Montana. These encounters are bad news for the grizzlies as well: Last year, about 50 bears were killed or removed from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, a record high for Montana.
Nonprofits such as the Blackfoot Challenge, located in the Blackfoot Valley, are helping communities deal with these conflicts. Stone, who chairs the organization’s board of directors, has helped implement its three-pronged approach to managing grizzlies: building electric fences, moving dead livestock to designated compost plots, and employing range riders to protect cattle. All told, conflicts with grizzlies in the Blackfoot Valley dropped by 74 percent from 2003 to 2013, according to a 2017 case study on the Blackfoot Challenge.
But in the small town of Condon, in nearby Swan Valley, where tall conifers rather than rangelands dominate the landscape, the residents face different problems. One of the biggest challenges is teaching people how to manage backyard bear attractants, such as garbage cans and chicken coops, says Luke Lamar, the conservation director at the nonprofit Swan Valley Connections. The organization offers electric-fencing installation, bear-resistant garbage containers, property consultations, and educational events. Once a bear knows where to find free food, it tends to return to the area, Lamar says. “That cycle will most likely continue until the bear is caught and removed by agency bear managers or by other means, such as a resident shooting the bear.”
Communities have different reactions to grizzlies and may need different methods to manage them. Sara Halm, a graduate student at Idaho State University, is interviewing people who live in three Montana communities to learn how grizzlies impact their rural towns. Many locals are scared for their children, who can no longer play outside alone the way their parents once did. For some, electric fences help lessen that fear. But fences make other residents feel confined. “This is deeper than just an economic issue of protecting people’s livelihoods,” Halm says. People have to redefine their relationship with the environment and wildlife.
And with or without electric fences, grizzly populations will likely continue to grow. Stone thinks the next big step for the Blackfoot Challenge involves preparing communities for grizzlies before they arrive. This includes teaching residents about electric fencing, carcass removal, and range riding. But more important, it means talking about collaboration among landowners and federal and state agencies. “One of the best things we’ve ever done to solve our problems is build trust and credibility between agencies and landowners through civil meetings,” says Randy Gazda, the vice chair of the organization’s board of directors. “If you don’t have trust, you can have all the tools in the world, but it’s probably not going to work.”
Federal wildlife officials foresee and have approved growing grizzly bear bloodshed on a sprawling complex of Bridger-Teton National Forest cattle grazing allotments recently permitted for the long haul.
The Bridger-Teton’s Pinedale District ranger, Rob Hoelscher, signed off in early October on a decision OK’ing the continuation of a historic grazing operation on 267 square miles of forestland that falls in the Upper Green and Gros Ventre river drainages. That decision instituted a number of minor changes, like giving the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association more flexibility in rotating its cows, tweaking utilization standards for vegetation heights and authorizing some new fencing.
A larger shift, however, is outlined in an accompanying document called a biological opinion, which estimates the federal action’s impact on a threatened or endangered species — in this case, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzly bears. The updated overall estimate of grizzly bears that will be “incidentally taken” as a result of the Upper Green grazing, the April 2019 document says, is 72 bruins between the 2019 and 2028 grazing seasons.
“We had a number of conversations with the grizzly bear recovery coordinator and also with Wyoming Game and Fish,” said Nathan Darnall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s deputy supervisor for Wyoming. “When we start talking numbers this large, we all have to pause for a second and ask if this number is sustainable.
“In looking at the grizzly population and looking at the future expansion of the population … we decided that this number, in concert with everything else, was sustainable,” he said.
The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population is estimated at around 700, though an undetermined number of Ursus arctos horribilis dwell on the fringes of the region outside where the species is carefully monitored.
“This is not going to jeopardize the population of bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem,” Darnall said. “We’re not going to see numbers dipping below recovery levels, and we would still expect the population to increase.”
Darnall and his colleagues at Fish and Wildlife, who oversee grizzlies because they’re currently classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, produced the biological opinion.
The document points out that not all bears in the Upper Green cause trouble and that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has documented bears with territories in the allotments that haven’t killed cattle.
“Nonetheless, bear conflicts with livestock increased an average of 10 percent each year,” the opinion says. “We believe this trend is likely to continue within the action area. Within the last nine years 37 grizzly bears were lethally removed from the action area due to conflicts with livestock.”
The all-time high mark for lethal action taken in response to dead cows came in 2018, when Wyoming had jurisdiction over the species during the grazing season, didn’t need Fish and Wildlife authorization, and opted to kill eight depredating grizzlies.
The 72 grizzlies authorized for removal over the coming decade is a large increase from the most recent estimate, in 2014. That year the “take” was set at a maximum of 11 bears over any rolling three-year period.
The 69-page document puts numbers to the rising rate of ursine-bovine conflict that led to the higher estimate. Although ranchers reported a relative lull this summer in the slaughter of both cattle and bears, since the turn of the century conflict has soared in the Upper Green as grizzly range has expanded and filled in that portion of the Bridger-Teton.
Between 2010 and 2018, Game and Fish and federal wildlife managers confirmed 527 conflicts, almost exclusively cattle that were killed or maimed. The majority, the document says, occurred in the last five years, and they took place “throughout the action area.”
The 1,112-square-mile “action area” assessed in the document is much larger than the actual allotments, taking into account grizzlies estimated to inhabit areas up to 7.5 miles away from the allotments. The more than 9,000 cow/calf pairs and few dozen horses permitted to graze the expansive rangeland have proven a big attractant, according to grizzly bear GPS collar data cited in the opinion. One bear captured after killing cattle on the allotments, grizzly No. 499, denned clear across the mighty Wind River Range, 24 miles away on the Wind River Reservation. Another Upper Green grizzly captured for research, bear No. 754, denned 29 miles away near the east boundary of Grand Teton National Park.
This iteration of Fish and Wildlife’s biological opinion for the Upper Green did not estimate the grizzly population in the “action area” surrounding the allotments. In 2013 the agency put the number at somewhere between 51 and 60 grizzlies.
Fourth-generation Upper Green stockman Albert Sommers, who helps run the Cattlemen’s Association, has tried and failed to change his grazing protocols in a way that reduces grizzly conflict. The operation pencils out, he’s told the News&Guide, only because of Wyoming compensation programs. In 2016 and 2017 Sommers worked with the conflict-reduction group People and Carnivores to test a herding technique that bunched up his bovines at night. It had “no effect on depredation,” the Fish and Wildlife’s opinion said, and was discontinued.
“I still go to conferences,” Sommers told the News&Guide this summer, “and listen to ideas.”
Not all parties paying attention to the chronic conflict in the Upper Green are satisfied with a gruesome status quo that’s forecasted to worsen. Center for Biological Diversity employee Andrea Santarsiere, of Victor, Idaho, said that the Bridger-Teton grazing complex is “good habitat” that’s turned into a “population sink” bound to continually attract more bears, resulting in more conflict.
“It’s just a cyclical problem that they’re not going to be able to resolve without taking some conservation measures on the ground,” Santarsiere said.
Mandatory conservation measures in the Bridger-Teton’s decision, she said, are “lacking terribly.”
“Pretty much everything that we asked for was ignored or significantly watered down,” she said.
During the “objection process” with the forest in early 2018, Santarsiere tried to make it mandatory for range riders to carry bear spray, but the language was turned into a recommendation. It was a similar story, she said, with carcass removal requirements that the conservation community sought.
“They have to move carcasses under the new decision if they are too close to roads where the public might be, which protects the public,” Santarsiere said. “But that’s not doing a lot to protect grizzly bears, because all they have to do is move them a little ways from the road.”
Hoelscher, the Bridger-Teton district ranger, said authorizing the mostly business-as-usual Upper Green grazing plans was a “really difficult decision.” He acknowledged that the regulations relating to grizzly conflict are largely unchanged.
“The permittees as well as the state have done a lot of trying to figure out what works, and what doesn’t,” Hoelscher said, “and they’re pretty much already doing about all they can do.”
“I feel it’s very important to maintain the lifestyles and the industry here locally for the permittees,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what comes out of this all.”
Santarsiere, who is an environmental attorney, said she’s considering her options.
The translocation of bears is likely years away as Washington state and B.C. officials are in the early stage of talks about how that would work, and the province said First Nations have to be consulted first.
The U.S. has dusted off a plan to repopulate the North Cascades area of Washington state with grizzly bears by translocating dozens of Canadian grizzlies to the U.S.
The U.S. parks and fish and wildlife departments are accepting public comments about its environmental impact statement on a grizzly bear restoration plan that could see dozens of young, mostly female, bears flown into North Cascades National Park.
Conservationists in both countries support the plan to establish a grizzly bear population in the vast park that’s on the other side of the border from Manning Park, and where the last sighting of a grizzly was in 1996.
“It would be great,” said Joe Scott, international program director for Conservation Northwest. “It would be a wonderful conservation success story for both the U.S. and B.C.”
The approval process in the U.S. would take at least another year and it would take several years of gradually introducing the bears stateside, about 25 bears over five to 10 years, before the grizzlies ideally would be self-sustaining, he said.
The bears would likely be imported from B.C. because the bears should be from a similar ecosystem (berry eating as opposed to salmon eating, for instance) and would likely be flown in by copter to ensure that they’re delivered a “fair distance from humans, for obvious reasons,” said Jack Oelfke, chief of natural and cultural resources for North Cascades National Park.
He said conservationists and the public have been supportive of bringing grizzlies back to the North Cascades. But some are opposed, such as the ranching industry.
B.C. government has had a representative on one of the U.S. committees contributing to the recovery plan in the past, and supports efforts to restore grizzlies to Washington state.
The province and the state are in the “early planning stages” to determine if grizzlies can be translocated from B.C., and B.C. First Nations have to be consulted, a spokesperson from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said in an email.
The ministry said, generally, the province’s grizzly bear population is healthy and stable at around 15,000 bruins.
“The province will be collaborating with Indigenous Peoples in the near future to draft a provincial grizzly bear management plan,” it said.
“We do have bears to spare,” said Nicholas Scapillati, executive director of the Grizzly Bear Foundation. But not in Canada’s North Cascades grizzly bear population unit, where it’s estimated fewer than 10 bears live.
Two years ago, B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer, in a report on B.C.’s grizzly bear conservation efforts, said one of the goals of the province’s conservation strategy was to lead the way in international recovery efforts, but that the U.S. was leading the way. The report also said, “it may be that recovery actions have been too little, too late” for the North Cascades’ grizzly population in Canada.
Scapillati said the bears would likely have to come from elsewhere in B.C. If the U.S. recovery plan was successful, it could help the North Cascades’ population recover in Canada, conservationists said.
The U.S. grizzly recovery study was first announced in 2014, halted in 2017, and then restarted last year. The Americans have until Oct. 24 to comment on the plan.
Grizzly experts disturbed by photos of emaciated bears in Knight Inlet are calling for research to determine why they are suffering.
Photos of a sow and two cubs taken by wildlife photographer and tour guide Rolf Hicker raised alarms for some scientists, who said the bears were likely suffering due to an abysmal Pacific salmon return this year. Federal fisheries experts have pointed to climate change as the main reason for the poor return, and salmon are crucial to coastal grizzly bears’ diets.
Longtime grizzly researchers say a salmon shortage is the most obvious explanation for why the bears in Hickers’ photos are suffering, but said there could be other factors.
Dr. Ken Macquisten, a wildlife veterinarian and managing director for the Grouse Mountain wildlife refuge, said he was shocked by the photos. Had only a single bear been suffering, he would have questioned whether it had broken teeth or an intestinal blockage.
“But multiple bears would tend to point to some common reason, and a lack of food would be top of the suspect list, in my mind,” said Macquisten, who is a director for the Grizzly Bear Foundation.
Macquisten said grizzly bear researchers are concerned about B.C.’s salmon supply. The fish are crucial to west coast bears during their hyperphagic stage before hibernation, when an adult will eat 50,000-60,000 calories of food and gain three to four pounds each day. They are omnivores and also typically eat whitebark pine nuts, insects and berries.
But if they don’t eat enough before hibernation, they will wake up early and be forced to search for food during winter when it is scarce, he said. They could die of starvation.
“Because they can range over large areas, typically the bears will be able to go to somewhere else where the food is, so it’s a bit surprising why these (photographed) bears are in such a state,” he said. “Either they haven’t been able to find food over a wide area or they haven’t been moving.”
But Macquisten urged caution before drawing the conclusion that a salmon shortage is to blame, and said he hopes someone will locate one of the suffering grizzly bears to determine the exact cause.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said provincial biologists can’t confirm why the sow in Hicker’s photo appears to be in such poor shape.
The biologists don’t know its history and whether age, dental issues, injuries, or providing for cubs contributed to its state, the ministry said in an emailed reply to questions.
“The number of bears on the coast are stable to increasing and this often means more competition for resources,” the ministry said. “If salmon runs in the area are lower than expected, this will have an added effect and bears may have to travel further to find food.”
Government representatives are working with the Mamalilikulla First Nation to monitor the welfare of wildlife in the area.
The B.C. government has estimated 15,000 grizzly bears are in the province and said roughly 340 die each year of human-related causes. Of the 56 grizzly populations in B.C., nine are classified as threatened.
Dr. Cole Burton, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources Management at the University of B.C., also called for research into whether a poor salmon return and climate change are impacting the wellbeing of some bear populations.
“If we’re concerned about grizzly bears and how they might be responding to these changes, then we should try and support some more study on that, some more monitoring that’s tied to our management actions,” Burton said.
He wouldn’t jump to the conclusion, from the photos, that the suffering grizzly bears represent more widespread suffering, he said.
“It’s certainly consistent with these ideas around a reduction in salmon,” said Burton, who is the Canada Research Chair in Terrestrial Mammal Conservation. “But on its own, I don’t think it provides much evidence of the bigger-picture trends.”
Burton said that grizzly bear populations in B.C. are generally doing okay, but not thriving, mainly due to habitat loss caused by development and roadbuilding.
The government’s ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting in 2017 may have increased the number of bears’ competing for food, Burton said. Prior to the ban, an average of 297 grizzly bears were legally killed by hunters annually, according to provincial data.
“I’m not saying that that’s what we’re seeing here, but certainly we would want to know about the population,” Burton said.
Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar at the University of Alberta, has been working with grizzly bears for six years and is currently researching their population dynamics.
A poor salmon run is a “reasonable” explanation for the sow to be malnourished, Lamb said. But when salmon populations are low, grizzlies tend to move elsewhere in search of berries, and he wondered whether the bears in the photographs have that option.
“I think a couple of pictures don’t give us that larger population context,” he said.
Lamb said climate models for grizzly populations in B.C.’s Interior suggest that berries and other diet staples could, in fact, become more abundant as the climate changes.
“As far as food and climate change for bears, it’s not immediately concerning,” he said. “There’s undoubtedly going to be winners and losers in climate change, and I think it just so happens that some of those key berry species are going to be winners.”
Bryce Casavant, a former conservation officer who is now conservation policy analyst with non-profit conservation organization Pacific Wild, said Hicker’s photos serves as a reminder that human behaviour can have an impact on wildlife.
“What we do know is there is food scarcity, currently, within the Great Bear Rainforest and coastal regions of B.C., which is causing problems for grizzly bears,” said Casavant, a PhD candidate at Royal Roads University.
“Salmon runs have declined, their ability to access natural food sources has decline. Habitat loss is a serious contributing factor to grizzly bear population recovery and stability.”
‘I’m hoping it’s not too little too late,’ says Mamalilikulla First Nation chief councillor
CBC News ·
When Richard Sumner saw how emaciated the grizzly bears were in his neck of the woods, he knew something had to be done.
Sumner, chief councillor of the Mamalilikulla First Nation, says the creeks and streams on the nation’s territory, which encompass the islands off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island between Alert Bay and Knight Inlet, are no longer rich with salmon, and resident bears are starving and travelling outside traditional hunting grounds in a desperate effort to find food.
So the Mamalilikulla people fed them.
The nation’s Guardian Watchmen Manager, Jake Smith, had a local hatchery donate approximately 500 salmon carcasses and members of the nation took the fish to estuary areas where grizzlies are known to feed.
“I’m hoping it’s not too little too late,” said Sumner in a phone interview on CBC’s On The Island, adding there are many other areas of British Columbia where bears that depend on salmon are hungry.
Sumner said while he understands humans should not interfere with wild animals, the Mamalilikulla people are the stewards of their territory and according to Sumner, the alternative was to watch the bears die.
“We just hope we can get enough bulk on them to last the winter,” said Sumner.
Some of the 400 members of the Mamalilikulla nation are suffering too.
“Nobody has any fish in their freezer or any canned fish for the winter,” he said. “It’s been a real disastrous year.”
Sumner does not know if more fish will be available for future deliveries.
Sumner said he is meeting Thursday with a bear biologist and provincial authorities to discuss the issue further.
To hear the complete interview with Richard Sumner, see the audio link below:
Fort Nelson resident Linda Mould wants to see the B.C. Conservation Officer Service take action because of a grizzly bear that’s been spotted over the past few weeks.
She’s not the only one either. Social media in the northern Interior community has been abuzz with bear sightings and conservation officer Jeff Clancy said he’s been getting upwards of three phone calls a day about it.
“Right now, it’s just sightings. There’s no conflict involved that we’ve been made aware of,” he said.
However, Mould, 66, who has lived in the area for more than 60 years, said bears are not common in the community and she is worried about the danger the grizzly poses to children.
“There are numerous people that have their children in school that they are not allowing them to stand outside to take the bus,” said the grandmother of nine.
“They’re severely limited as to what they’re able to do outside right now, because the parents are afraid of this grizzly bear that’s lurking on the outskirts. So, if something’s not done, which I’m quite confident nothing will be done, these kids are basically being held hostage prior to winter even starting.”
People in the area have been talking about bear sightings since the end of August. Mould believes that if a grizzly bear was wandering in a larger city like Vancouver, it would have been removed by now.
“Grizzly bears are not normal to Fort Nelson and all we’re doing is just keeping an eye on them,” she said.
“I just really wish that the COs would take us a little bit more seriously and understand and appreciate that our fear is honest. Just because we have not been educated in the way of the bear does not mean that we don’t have respect for them and are afraid of them,” she added.
Monitoring the situation, says conservation officer
Clancy has seen the bear and describes it as a 300 pound, three-year-old grizzly with a brown coat and silver tips on its back.
Up until now, the bear has mostly been seen on large rural properties on the outskirts of the community, chowing down on fruit and grass, he said.
When Clancy saw the bear and approached, he said it took off.
He added that for those who are concerned it is just him monitoring a large area of northern B.C. as a conservation officer, RCMP officers in the area are also trained to respond if there is an incident with the bear.
However, they have no plans to put it down.
“A unique sighting of a grizzly bear hanging around some rural properties is not enough to euthanize a bear. And I am pretty sure the majority of the public in British Columbia would agree with me on that,” said Clancy.
“It’s just unfortunate that he’s kind of found a nice comfy home next to some residences close to Fort Nelson.”
Roaming grizzly bear not a threat to Fort Nelson residents, CO says
A 300-pound grizzly bear has been seen wandering around a rural Fort Nelson neighbourhood for nearly a month, eating apples and lawn cuttings. The local conservation officer says it’s not a threat, but not everyone feels safe. 10:08
A 275-kg male grizzly bear was struck on killed on the Trans-Canada Highway.
by: Cathy Ellis
A large male grizzly bear was struck and killed on the Trans-Canada Highway on provincial lands last week.
Provincial wildlife officials say a large 275-kg male grizzly was reported dead in the highway ditch on Wednesday evening (Aug. 28) near Jumpingpound Creek – the third large male grizzly to be killed in that area in the past five years.
“It’s a real drag because we’re trying to reduce mortality, and highway mortality is problematic,” said Jay Honeyman, human-wildlife conflict specialist with Alberta Environment and Parks.
“The volume of traffic these days on the Trans-Canada is quite heavy, even during the week and in the evenings,” he added.
“It’s really challenging for bears to cross that highway without having some kind of an incident. I guess it’s not a surprise that we’re having these incidents with all the traffic.”
Historically, Alberta is estimated to have had between 6,000 and 9,000 grizzly bears. Grizzlies once ranged across the whole of Alberta, across Saskatchewan and into Manitoba.
When extensive DNA research determined Alberta’s population had dipped to about 700 individuals, the grizzly bear was declared a threatened species in Alberta in 2010. The count is being updated.
Most grizzly bear deaths are caused by humans, including poaching, being mistaken for a black bear during the black bear hunting season, self-defense and accidents such as being struck on roads.
The most up-to-date figures provided the Alberta government show that 207 grizzly bears died at the hands of humans between 2008 and 2017. The most human-caused deaths for any one year was recorded in 2016, at 29.
In those years, more than half of the human-caused grizzly bear deaths were due to poaching and accidental deaths on roads and railway. There have been 57 known poaching cases and 63 accidental in the past 10 years.
The Alberta Wilderness Association has concerns about the ongoing high numbers of human-caused grizzly bear deaths.
“Human-caused mortality continues to be a problem,” said Joanna Skrajny, a conservation specialist with AWA.
“Human contact and human incursion into grizzly bear wildlife habitat is the main reason why they are dying.”
Skrajny said the fact that three large make grizzlies have died in that area of the Trans-Canada Highway in the last few years suggests an obvious start is a study to determine if a crossing structure may be warranted.
“In situations where we keep coming into contact with grizzlies and they keep dying, we have to reassess what we’re doing,” she said.
AWA is waiting on an update of the status of the grizzly bear population in Alberta, as well as updated grizzly bear mortality numbers for 2018 and 2019.
Skrajny said high numbers of human-caused mortality could mean it’s hard for a grizzly bear population to regulate itself.
“It means we’re not doing a good job of keeping their habitat safe,” she said.
“Even if grizzly bears are coming in from B.C. where some of the numbers are higher, they’re coming here to die in the end and that means we’re not doing our job properly.”
In addition to bears dying on provincial lands, two grizzly bears have died in Banff National Park this summer.
A male grizzly was struck and killed by a semi-trailer on Highway 93 South just after midnight on June 4, about one kilometre south of the Trans-Canada Highway heading up the hill towards Storm Mountain.
On June 22, Parks Canada was forced to kill an injured and emaciated young female grizzly bear. It’s believed a vehicle struck the bear on the highway 10 days earlier. The yearling, its sibling and mother were on the wrong side of the fence meant to keep wildlife off the highway.
Meanwhile, Honeyman said six black bears have been killed on the roads in this area of the province this summer – four on the Trans-Canada Highway, one on the 1A and one of Highway 40.
“We’ve also had a couple of confirmed strikes where we don’t know if the bear survived or not,” he said.