All-terrain trails, wilderness roads hastening grizzly decline, report says - The Globe and Mail
All-terrain trails, wilderness roads hastening grizzly decline, report says
Alberta government not doing enough to protect the bruins, researchers argue
Calgary — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Published on Friday, May. 28, 2010 9:14PM EDT
An extensive network of roadways and all-terrain vehicle trails carved deep into critical grizzly-bear habitat in Alberta is hastening the decline of the carnivores, whose population is already perilously close to collapse in the province.
That’s one of the conclusions of a 38-page report titled A Grizzly Challenge, which is the product of four years of research by a coalition of seven environmental groups that argue the Progressive Conservative government is not doing enough to protect the bruins.
“It’s no longer good enough for the government to claim not enough information,” the report’s author Jeff Gailus told reporters in Calgary on Friday. “…We don’t have a strong legislative framework.”
In March, the province issued a bear count that pegged the number of grizzlies on provincial land at 691 – there are perhaps 70 more in Banff and Jasper national parks – but that’s down from an estimated 1,000 bears in 2002.
The Alberta Endangered Species Conservation Committee, which is made up of scientists, conservationists, ranchers, industry and government officials, recommended eight years ago that the grizzly be listed as a “threatened” species and reiterated that call again after the latest bear count.
But the province hasn’t acted on that recommendation. Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mel Knight has said he is consulting with colleagues. The province did suspend hunting in 2006 and produced a grizzly bear recovery plan, which calls for better public education and management of problem bears, as well reducing human-caused mortality and vehicle access to grizzly habitat.
Government spokesman Dave Ealey said the province is moving ahead with habitat protection and controlling human access as part of its recovery efforts.
But those behind the report issued Friday, including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation and Sierra Club of Canada, say the province hasn’t lived up to its own recovery plan.
They argue that human-caused mortality thresholds are too high, there’s not enough habitat being protected, there’s no strategy to link bears living in population clumps, and there are too many roads running through bear country.
“We need to start reducing access right away,” said Nigel Douglas, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, which also sponsored the report.
Just this week, two grizzly sows were killed – one in Banff National Park after being hit by a train and the other illegally shot near Cardston which had to be euthanized by wildlife officials, who are investigating. The culprit could face a $100,000 fine. The euthanized bear left three orphaned cubs that were relocated, but there’s no guarantee they’ll survive, experts say.
The loss of even a single bear in a population so small can have a huge impact, researchers say. Still, conservationists remain optimistic and said the number of grizzlies could rise to 2,000 over the next few decades if the public and political will is put behind recovery efforts.
The report points to efforts in the last 25 years in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, where the grizzly population has jumped to 600 from 200. And it’s not just about the bears.
When bears are in trouble, Mr. Douglas said, it shows that the land isn’t being managed properly and that other species, habitat and the human water supply could be in trouble.
“We see grizzly bears as kind of the canary in the coal mine,” he said.