CALGARY — Conservationists say the Alberta government needs to clamp down on traffic in sensitive backcountry habitat to provide protection for the province’s dwindling grizzly bear population.
Alberta’s grizzly bear numbers stand at less than 700 and prompted the government to ban hunting the last few years and to declare the animals threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act.
But problems with all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and other vehicles remain despite the ban.
“Nobody was ever saying the grizzly bears are in trouble because of the hunt and nobody was ever saying that removing the hunt was going to fix the problem,” said Nigel Douglas, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association.
“The problem is access in grizzly bear habitat. We remove one simple source of grizzly bear mortality but we still have plenty of others with the access that we have,” he said Monday at a news conference in Calgary.
A number of environmental groups are calling for an immediate moratorium on new roads and serious restrictions for sensitive areas in a long, narrow strip that runs north along the Rocky Mountains from the U.S. border.
“Now that grizzly hunting is on hold, the primary cause of bear deaths is too much contact between bears and people due to motorized access into their habitat,” said Wendy Francis, Program Director for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.
“There’s often a conflict that doesn’t end up well for the bear,” she said.
“The bears are being shot by hunters … who mistake them for black bears or hunters who come in conflict with bears that go after the animal that (the hunters) have killed or people who have a negative interaction with a bear and the bear ends up being removed by a conservation officer.”
Francis said bears that are removed have a 30 per cent chance of dying earlier than they normally would.