The grizzly bear is an iconic Western species that is highly sensitive to habitat fragmentation. Grizzlies were extirpated from most of their range in North America in the 1800’s, and today persist in only the most remote wilderness areas. The grizzly subpopulation in British Columbia is especially important, as it connects bears in the contiguous U.S. with larger populations to the north. The South Rockies Grizzly Project studies population dynamics of grizzly bears in southeast British Columbia, balancing hunting opportunity, public safety and conservation risk for the species across the region.
Bear hunting has been closed in British Columbia several times in the past due to high rates of non-hunter mortality. In many parts of the region, dense human settlement overlaps with high quality bear foraging habitat, leading to increased human-bear conflict in these areas. This interaction results in higher mortality rates for the grizzlies. Bears from more remote backcountry have been found to fill the space of bears removed due to this conflict, triggering a far reaching effect on the larger population.
Genetic analysis and monitoring population trends are important components of the South Rockies Grizzly Bear study. Researchers conduct annual field sampling using rub trees and hair traps. In 2014, 146 individual bears were identified. The project has determined an overall population trend from the past 9 years of field research. The project has documented significant population declines in the South Rockies management unit, attributed to high rates of bear mortality as a result of human-bear conflict.
By understanding and quantifying population dynamics, wildlife managers can better assess the impact of mortality related to human-bear conflict. The declining bear population and increasing human-bear conflict suggest that the provincial government should investigate ways to reduce mortality caused by conflict. The project has recommended several conflict mitigation measures, including the mandatory use of bear spray, increased safety standards for backcountry camps, and road closures in high contact areas. Road and rail kills also need to be minimized, along with efforts to ensure that the public reports these incidents .
Increased community involvement is an essential step toward reducing human-grizzly bear conflict. Researchers present their findings to local stakeholders in various community venues. Many local people are passionate about bear conservation and support this project’s work. Volunteers from various stakeholder groups are directly involved in the research. Public engagement fosters greater awareness of grizzly bear conservation and public safety.
SCI Foundation is committed to science-based management of wildlife. Research like the South Rockies Grizzly Project helps to ensure that bears are managed based on science. By continually working together and building partnerships, we are able to contribute to conservation efforts around the world.
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