It’s about more than the loss of our bears

In 1981, I captured, radio-collared, and released my first grizzly bear in a little drainage called Stoney Creek southwest of Grande prairie. Over the next five years I and my crew made 44 captures of 28 different grizzly bears.

In 1981, I captured, radio-collared, and released my first grizzly bear in a little drainage called Stoney Creek southwest of Grande prairie. Over the next five years I and my crew made 44 captures of 28 different grizzly bears.

Of these bears only two (one male, one female) were over 20 years of age. The density of bears captured, observed and reliably differentiated by the researchers, was disturbingly low.

The population was skewed toward young bears, few females were present, and there were very few bears in an area that, biologically, was extremely productive; sure signs of mismanagement and biological “trouble”.

It was also evident that humans, largely in the form of industrialization, were having a significant impact on the capacity of the area to provide security of life, movement and reproduction for grizzly bears.

The Wapiti gas and oil field, along with logging, had carved the area into pieces, providing a dense and very deadly road system that was quickly exploited by hunters and natives. Each party, industry included, would, accuse the other of “doing the damage” but the reality is that in combination the impact on bear habitat and populations is classic. It has been duplicated across the range of grizzly bears in North America.

I made a serious, extended effort to inform authorities of the depleted state of that grizzly bear population and the degraded state of its habitat.

The province has known for over 25 years that the grizzly bear population has been seriously reduced and that its habitat has been under assault.

Failure to act was and is inexcusable. The Americans, faced with the same situation, passed an endangered species act, and listed the grizzly bear as threatened way back in 1975.

Competent biologists should have known the facts from the American work and my discussions with them. The Fish and Wildlife Division, and the minister, were willfully negligent in not acting on the evidence in a professional and responsible manner.

In 1990 I estimated the province’s grizzly bear population to be as low as 415 bears, under half what the province was insisting was “in the woods.”

In about 2000 I estimated the population at around 400 bears, with the proviso it could be lower. In 2001 I estimated historical grizzly bear populations pre-European at 9,920 to 16,525 bears and criticized the province for “aiming” for 1,000 bears, a “goal” roughly 94 per cent below historical numbers.

In 2004, I used the province’s earlier (1997) DNA data to estimate about 36 grizzly bears in southern Alberta, somewhere in the order of half of what existed just across the border in Montana! The fact is the province has been misrepresenting grizzly bear numbers and vehemently standing behind a politically motivated agenda for decades.

Imagine if royalty revenue was down 94 per cent, or wait times for hospital beds was up 94 per cent; we would slay the government, and rightly so.

It makes sense — after all, using science and independent analysis would have interfered with their bias in favor of hunting, and the ranching community that refuses to tolerate the loss of even one of the three million cattle in Alberta. And of course, the oil and gas and timber industries that have perfected the arrogance of entitlement to dominate land use decisions and exploit public resources.

But even more than that, it also shows a degree of malfeasance that should be dealt with in the courts.

The type of ecocide being directed toward grizzly bears and their habitat, which represent only the tip of the ecological iceberg, warrants a trial, or a truth and reconciliation commission.

The people of Alberta do not endorse the grizzly bear eradication that Morten and Stelmach are pursuing (in the footsteps of Klein and Lund).

That is where malfeasance can and should be charged.

Albertans do not collectively endorse the kind of arrogance that says that a scientifically sound, conservation agenda for grizzly bears and public land “is not appropriate for the landscape.”

Of course there are special and selfish interests that are determined to hunt even the last bear (as happened in Mexico and most Western States), who want to drill, or log every single valley to satisfy their subsidized bottom line and fatten shareholders.

What’s astonishing is that we continue to hear the pathetic excuses like “the right policy takes time.” A version of a “right” regulatory and legal structure has been in place for 33 years in the U.S. An entry level biologist or lawyer could duplicate it!

The habitat of Alberta’s public lands has been dramatically degraded, and grizzly bears are endangered because of the moral, ethical, social and legal prejudice so deeply entrenched in this government.

But the disintegration of honest, democratic government in Alberta is about much more than grizzly bears.

Severe damage has been done to the public’s legitimate entitlement to debate and dissent, to the public’s right to set government agenda, and to what should be the public’s legal right to an honest regulatory process.

This betrayal of environmental, social and legal responsibility is inexcusable and cannot be justified or tolerated.

Brian L. Horejsi