Bears and roads don’t mix, say U of A grizzly researchers

‘Maintaining a large roadless area was critical to maintaining a large population of grizzly bears’ CBC News January 9, 2018

The science is stacking up on the need to close some roads, especially those first constructed for resource extraction, to improve struggling grizzly bear populations in Western Canada.

Higher road density leads to lower grizzly bear density, says population ecologist Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. He co-authored a study that appears Tuesday in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

In 2015, Lamb and fellow researchers collected grizzly bear hair samples across an 8,000-square-kilometre area in the Monashee Mountains, east of the Okanagan.

The area has been heavily affected by the logging industry, with about 1.6 kilometres of road for every square kilometre of wilderness land area.

“If you’re to add all of the roads up, there’d be about 10,000 kilometres in that area,” he said. “To drive from Vancouver to Ottawa, it would be less than 5,000 kilometres.”

$13K fine for man who killed grizzly deemed ‘scandalous’ by conservationists
The team used DNA to identify individual bears and estimate the density of the bear population.

The next step was to ask how the landscape affects those numbers.

“We found that heavily roaded areas have lower grizzly bear density,” Lamb said.

He noted the B.C. government has closed public access to some of these roads.

“It showed by closing these roads, the public restored grizzly bear density in that area. Maintaining a large roadless area was critical to maintaining a large population of grizzly bears in the area and recovering it.”

Grizzly bears threatened in Alberta

Grizzly bears were listed as threatened in Alberta in 2010 when it was determined there were only about 700 left. A recovery strategy was introduced aimed at reducing conflicts between bears and people.

Grizzly bear researchers such as Gordon Stenhouse from the Foothills Research Institute have also shown how roads affect the survival rates for grizzly bears.

Lamb said when it comes to grizzly bear density, the risks of roads are twofold.

“Roads and the humans that travel them increase both the risk of grizzly bear mortality and the chance the bear won’t use habitat near the road anymore,” he said.

“You could have fewer bears because they’re killed near the road, or you could have fewer because bears avoid the area because there are people on the road. It’s likely a result of both of those mechanisms that result in lower grizzly bear density.” 

Grizzly bear with cubs
The study looked at an 8,000-square-kilometre area in B.C. (Spencer Rettler)
Many of the roads in the area that Lamb studied were initially constructed as logging roads. They’re mainly flat, gravel and two-laned. Even if industry is no longer active in an area, the roads often remain and hunters, campers, and ATV riders use them for recreation.

It is generally recommended that road density not exceed 0.6 kilometres per square kilometre of wilderness area.

Lamb doesn’t think closing some roads would significantly affect the people who currently use them.

“Hundreds of thousands of kilometres of roads will still remain across the province,” he said. “And there are many new, non-motorized recreational opportunities that are created by closing roads.”

Research applicable to Alberta

In Alberta, where the grizzly bear population is much lower than in B.C., previous work studying grizzly bears and roads has already prompted some road closures, said Lamb.

Grizzly bear population in southwest Alberta growing by 4 per cent per year
This research builds on that work, he said.

“In a lot of ways, this study is applicable to Alberta because a lot of the Alberta [bear] population lives in relatively low density due to a lot of dry and rocky habitat in Alberta. And that was essentially what this population was like: a low density recovery population. So the situation we’re documenting is akin to the Alberta situatuion.”

Bryce Casavant Replies to BC Wildlife Federation’s Alan Martin

I recognize that this is a difficult time for trophy hunters in B.C. Change is never easy. However, this does not mean we invent alternative facts to support rhetoric. In his opinion piece published in The Vancouver Sun on Dec. 27, Alan Martin has made multiple factually incorrect assertions to support the continuance of grizzly bear hunting. In an effort to correct misinformation, I would like to point out the following:

First, a B.C.-based independent polling company (Insights West) conducted a public survey in 2015 which found that 91 per cent of British Columbians opposed the trophy hunting of grizzly bears.

Second, following the 2017 provincial election, the new government conducted a public consultation process between September and October. The purpose was to solicit comments from all British Columbians regarding the management of grizzly bears. Over 4,000 responses were recorded. Of these responses received by government, over 78 per cent opposed the continued hunting of grizzly bears.

Therefore, a factually correct presentation would be to state: “A public survey found that 91 per cent of British Columbians oppose the trophy hunting of grizzly bears. Additionally, following a public consultation process, some 4,000 comments were received by the government of B.C., of which over 78 per cent opposed the hunting of grizzly bears.”

From these two points, a general argument is made that the hunting of grizzly bears is no longer socially acceptable by broader B.C. society.

Third, the B.C. Auditor-General never stated that hunting was not a threat to grizzly bear sustainability. Although the AG recognized that habitat loss was the most critical factor affecting grizzly bear populations, in no way is that meant to infer that hunting grizzly bears is a sustainable practice. To infer such a contention is to gravely misrepresent the findings of the review. Overall, the Auditor-General found that serious improvements to grizzly bear management were required.

Martin cites a dictionary to define the term “populist” and argues that the new NDP government is simply siding with the flavour of the day in order to gain votes and political support. Respectfully, I disagree. What I would suggest instead is that we are witnessing a change in societal values. I further argue that this change has led the new government to consider social values, scientific arguments, and the recommendations made by the B.C. Auditor-General — that the most appropriate dictionary word to describe the recent policy decision is not “populist” but rather “responsible” and most certainly “rational”.

Environmental management should be governed by the values of our society. And to be sure, these values will change over time. While we use science, experience, history and knowledge to inform government policy direction, ultimately, it is the values of the society we live in that progress over time and changes the manner in which we are governed. Call it democracy.

Having said all this, I must admit, I agree with Martin on one point: Inclusive of urban expansion, habitat loss, rail and highway mortalities, dwindling salmon stocks, and conflicts with humans, the plight of B.C.’s grizzly bears is far from restricted to the actions of hunting alone. However, where we differ is that I see hunting as a cumulative effect to a species that is already under immense pressure to find a new home and food. We can control the cumulative effect of hunting with the simple action of not pulling the trigger — if we do shoot, use a camera and kill only time. Our trophies should be memories and pictures. The only thing left behind in the bush should be our footprints in the sand, not a bloody, skinless and headless carcass.

Bryce Casavant is a former B.C. Conservation Officer who made international headlines in 2015 when he refused to kill two bear cubs. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Royal Roads University, studying public trust and wildlife co-existence in B.C.

link to Letter in Vancouver Sun by Alan Martin of the B.C. Wildlife Federation

Opinion: Populism and grizzly bears

British Columbia’s New NDP Government Announces an End to Grizzly Bear Hunting!


Halting the Grizzly Killing in BC!

BC Government Banned the Killing of Grizzlies on December 18, 2017

We wish to thank the Government of British Columbia for listening to the will of the people and acting boldly by placing a full ban on the Grizzly sport hunt. We would also like to thank and congratulate all of you for participating and contributing towards helping British Columbia become the worlds largest Grizzly Bear sanctuary.
With gratitude. STGK ( posted on Stop the Grizzly Killing Facebook Page on Dec 18, 2018 )

Note: Bears Matter has been honoured to be apart of the team at Stop the Grizzly Killing since 2009! We will continue to work toward more protections for our grizzlies in the way of habitat preservation and strict enforcement of our Wildlife Act.

  Watch and read the BC Government News Release on Stopping the Hunting of Grizzly Bears in British Columbia…..effectively immediately!