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Bear Management = People Management

Bears have been restricted to mostly mountainous environments, but their shoulder hump actually evolved from a life on the prairies.

A professor told me once that wildlife management is often people management. If you think about it, it’s often a lot easier to “control” or manage people than it is to “control” or manage a wild animal. To me, these words don’t ring more true than with grizzly bears in the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks and surrounding landscapes. This landscape is full of people, doing all kinds of things. From major transportation corridors (highways and railways) to towns (Banff and Jasper), from hiking trails to biking routes – bears are constantly navigating a landscape that is full of people doing fun things.

I’ve never been of the frame of mind that people should be eliminated from the landscape; people getting out and appreciating our awesome Rocky Mountain wilderness is important for so many reasons. But I do think that it’s up to people to try and make it easier for a grizzly bear to do what it needs to do while we play in their home.

In the late 1800s, there were thousands of grizzly bears roaming North America, from Canada to Mexico and as far east as the great plains. Grizzly bears actually evolved as a plains species – their prominent hump is a mass of muscle that they use for digging up ground squirrels, roots, and tubers. Since then, grizzly bear range has shrunk considerably. The main reason is that human range has increased considerably. As people settled the prairies, grizzlies were pushed further and further west. Isolated populations eventually blinked out, and we ended up with the fragmented, mostly mountainous populations we have today.

Grizzly bear range contracted since the late 1800s due mainly to human settlement.

With around 760 grizzly bears in the whole province of Alberta, they have been listed as threatened under the Alberta Wildlife Act. The Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan stipulates a bunch of different things that have to happen to recover this provincial population . There are tactics associated with public education (teaching people how to better coexist with grizzly bears), others associated with reducing grizzly bear deaths at human hands (moratorium on hunting, penalties for poaching), and still other tactics associated with better habitat management (reducing the number of roads in grizzly bear habitat). All of these things must work together to actually recover grizzly bears in Alberta, and all of these things involve people – what we do, where we do it, and how we behave in grizzly bear habitat.

It is for these reasons that grizzly bear recovery is everyone’s responsibility. By working together, we can find ways to ensure grizzly bear survival while living or having fun in grizzly bear habitat. It is also for these reasons, that I believe community involvement in my PhD research in critical to project success.

Living in a town like Canmore means living with wildlife on a daily basis. I drove past the local elk herd yesterday. A few nights ago, I watched a coyote trot across the street as I walked to my car. And every summer there are bear sightings on the many trails around our town. I’ve also become aware that even though there are many different research efforts happening all around us, people who live and recreate here aren’t necessarily aware of them or how they influence wildlife and people management.

So on March 2, 2013, I’ll be hosting a fundraiser/dance party at Communitea (one of our local Canmore cafes) to share the purpose of this research with my community. I’ll be recruiting volunteers to help with data collection and asking for my community to support this research. All funds raised will go directly towards research costs (e.g., remote cameras, GPS units). But more importantly, this event will serve to get people engaged. At the end of the day, I will create a series of management recommendations to maximize visitor satisfaction with their National Park experience while minimizing impacts to grizzly bears. I believe that working closely with the community and with recreationists is the only way to do that successfully. Many Canmore and Banff businesses have generously donated to a raffle that will be part of this fundraiser. This past weekend, I dressed up in a bear costume and gave out “bear hugs” to all donating businesses. It was a fun morning to say the least!

Berry the Bear gets a tour of the local fire hall.

Comment on this blog post if you’re interested in volunteering in this research and I’ll include you in the list. I’ll contact all interested volunteers in the coming months when I’ve got a better idea regarding a field schedule.

Grizzly bear management is people management, but without the support of the people there can’t be successful management plans.

Grizzly bears in Alberta need our help; recovering this species and making sure they persist in the Canadian Rockies is up to all of us.



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