Alberta grizzly bears to go before species at risk panel to review threatened status

After a comprehensive population study showed a strong and growing population of grizzly bears in Alberta, a panel will review the bear's provincial "threatened" status.

Results were released last week of a population study based on DNA evidence gathered in each of the province's seven bear management areas. It found there are between 850 and 973 adult grizzly bears in the province.

"It's pretty clear from this data that the bear has recovered inside our province, which is great news," said Jason Nixon, minister of environment and parks. "It is interacting very well with certain industrial activity on the eastern slopes that previously some people thought was negative for the bear,"

The study also found populations are expanding eastwards into more populated areas, in some cases places where they have not been seen in decades.

If grizzly bears lose their provincial "threatened" status, the province will consider re-opening a limited lottery-based hunting season.

"(Hunting) is frankly the primary management tool used for most species on the landscape," said Nixon. "Whether or not that is something Albertans will accept as a management tool in this case is a conversation that needs to continue."

"What is clear is that a species should not stay on the species at risk (list) because we're concerned about having to use a management tool of hunting," he added.

LAST HUNTED IN 2005

Albertans last hunted grizzly bears in 2005, when out of more than 70 licenses issued, 10 bears were shot and killed.

The hunt was officially suspended the following year, although at the time provincial biologists found the hunt was not driving down overall numbers.

The Grizzly Bear Foundation opposes the possibility of a hunt, saying the notion of management of wildlife is antiquated.

"There's all kinds of species that we don't hunt and wildlife management has to come into the 21st century," said Nicholas Scapillati, executive director of the Grizzly Bear Foundation. "It has to be based on science and it has to be based on the values of the people."

URBAN RURAL DIVIDE

There is a divide in those values which largely falls along urban rural lines.

As bears expand their territory they are coming closer to people. How far they can expand will depend on what communities decide they are willing to live with.

"I think that there are all kinds of ways to mitigate that and make it work, but to suggest that it is this sort of really easy situation and there is zero risk is just not realistic," said Clayton Lamb, a wildlife biologist affiliated with UBC.

"There's lots of evidence that grizzly bear hunting can be sustainably managed, there's a whole another social and ethical piece to that and frankly whether the public wants to see grizzly bear hunting," Lamb said.

"You don't want the more urban views to steamroll those rural perspectives who really are the people who have to live with the reality of having grizzly bears on the landscape."