Final Grizzly Bear Population Estimate Confirms Alberta Grizzlies in Trouble

Sierra Club Canada, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Alberta Wilderness Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Federation of Alberta Naturalists, and Jasper Environmental Association
2009-09-17

Newly released information confirms that Alberta’s grizzly bear populations are below numbers considered to be sustainable by international standards. Today, the provincial government announced the long-awaited Grizzly Bear DNA Population Estimate Report for an area north of Highway 16 is complete. Combined with previous research, the government reports the population estimate of the all the areas studied so far is 581 bears, which remains worryingly low. Conservation organizations are eager to review this report and are calling on the provincial government to fully fund and immediately implement Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery strategy.  

“The government has been postponing serious action to protect grizzly bears until this information was available,” says Carl Morrison, of Sierra Club Canada’s Action Grizzly Bear campaign. “Now that the numbers are in, it’s clear that urgent and concerted action is needed to recover Alberta’s bears.”

This report signifies the end of a five-year intensive study to determine how many grizzly bears remain on provincial lands. The study is one of the largest DNA-based population studies conducted, and the results represent the best available science regarding Alberta’s grizzly bear populations.

The government reports 353 grizzly bears occupy habitat from Highway 16 to near Grand Prairie. This is a slightly higher density than other regions of the province, but almost a quarter of this study area includes the Willmore Wilderness Park (4600 km2). This immense protected area prohibits motorized vehicles, has no developed facilities, and represents some of the last unexploited high quality wildlife habitat in Alberta. In addition, a significant portion of Jasper National Park and Kakwa Wildland Park were also included in this study area.

 “The higher density of bears in this study area highlights the importance of parks and protected areas with limited motorized access for boosting grizzly numbers,” says Wendy Francis, Director of Conservation for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “Reducing road densities in critical grizzly habitat is a key action the province must take.”  

In 2002 population estimates were less than 1,000 bears, and Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee recommended that the grizzly be listed as threatened. The government has so far failed to implement this recommendation. Now, after investing five years and millions of taxpayer dollars in state-of-the-art research, the government is further postponing this decision. Conservationists and biologists are requesting that the government immediately list Alberta’s grizzly bear population as threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. A threatened status will require the implementation of recovery strategies.

“With the new population data we have a more complete picture of Alberta’s grizzly population and it doesn’t look good,” says Nigel Douglas, Conservation Specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. “Albertans will not accept continued government delays on recovery; the time to act it now.”

“Grizzly bears are part of Alberta’s ‘wild’ cultural and social identity,” says Sarah Elmeligi, Senior Conservation Planner with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “A recent Canadian Press survey indicated that the public wants government action on the environment despite the recession.”

“The longer action on recovery is delayed, the cost and duration of recovery will increase,” says Jim Pissot of Defenders of Wildlife. “A dollar wisely spent now will save hundreds of recovery dollars later.”

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Contact Information:
Carl Morrison, Sierra Club of Canada: 780-439-1160
Wendy Francis, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative: 403-763-8633
Nigel Douglas, Alberta Wilderness Association: 403-283-2025
Jim Pissot, Defenders of Wildlife: 403-678-0016
Sarah Elmeligi, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society: 403-688-8641

Background Information:

Information regarding grizzly bear management in Alberta can be found at:
www.srd.gov.ab.ca/fishwildlife/wildlifeinalberta/grizzlybearmanagement/default.aspx

How Alberta determines the status of wildlife:

Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee, in consultation with its Scientific Sub Committee, uses the same criteria set forth by the International Union on Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It states:

If the population has fewer than:
•    1000 mature adults it should be listed as Threatened
•    250 mature adults it should be listed as Endangered

In Alberta it is estimated that 68-70% of the grizzly bear population is mature adults. With an estimated 581 bear this means only 400 mature adults.

According to Alberta’s Strategy for the Management of Species at Risk (2009-2014):

“The ultimate goal of formally designating a species as Threatened or Endangered is to facilitate management and recovery efforts necessary to restore viable populations”

Guiding Principles for Recovery (Sec 4.1, p18, Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan)

B) Decisions Based on Science
Recovery efforts will be most successful when based on the best available scientific information, and efforts to provide increased scientific information must continue.

C) Precautionary Principle
“Erring on the side of caution will help to ensure grizzly bear populations do not become irrevocably small. Recovery Actions must not be delayed while data are being acquired and information verified, and expert opinion should be used when data are lacking.”


Alberta’s current Fish and Wildlife Policy (1984) also adheres to management based on quality science. It states:

"... The primary consideration for the Government is to ensure that wildlife populations are protected from severe decline and that viable populations are maintained.   ...

FRI research results for DNA based population surveys:

2004 - Mid-Rockies              Highway 1 to Highway 11                       45 grizzlies
2005 - Jasper-Yellowhead    Highway 11 to Highway 16                      42   
2006 - SE Slopes                  Highway 3 to Highway 1                          90
2007 - SW corner                 Highway 3 to MT border                          51
2008 - Grand Cache area      Highway 16 to near Grand Prairie           353
                                                                                                             581 grizzlies

Link to article regarding the Canadian Press Harry Decima survey:
http://thetyee.ca/CanadianPress/2009/08/23/Environment-Poll/

            

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