Since 2010, Alberta has managed grizzly bears as a Threatened species. The objective is to increase the number of grizzlies on the landscape while reducing risks to people. Efforts focus on measuring and monitoring grizzly bear population health and managing and mitigating human-bear conflicts.
Recent population inventories completed in southwest and west central Alberta show population growth. Preliminary results from Bear Management Area 5 also indicate population increase. While this is a good thing, it makes keeping people and bears safe more challenging because it increases the likelihood of human-bear encounters.To assist with potential issues, the Alberta government has prepared the Grizzly Bear Response Guide. The guidelines provide direction and consistency when responding to various types of human-bear conflict and consider the need for public safety as first priority.
So why not leave the bears alone?
While the suggestion that bears should be allowed to use areas instead of people seems great in theory, this can be complicated in areas where wildlife is not desired, such as residential areas and urban green spaces.
Closing areas on public lands can be an effective management tool, but closing areas within developments such as residential areas or urban green spaces is more difficult and can encourage animals to reuse these areas. Closures within developments on private land are difficult to enact and enforce, can interfere with personal freedoms and, while offering temporary respite for the bears, are not an acceptable long-term solution.
Areas are not typically closed just because a bear is seen travelling through an area – this could involve closing off much of an area for the entire bear season. Closures are generally put in place when bears begin to frequent an area of high human use for an extended period of time.
Managing human-bear conflict proactively is an objective of Environment and Parks, particularly in the Bow Valley, as evidenced by the Film Living with Wildlife.
How are problem animals managed?
Environment and Parks generally manages wildlife on a population scale. Occasionally, specific animals — including bears — need to be managed individually. If a bear begins to display concerning behaviour that could become a public safety concern, management actions may be considered and could include aversive conditioning, attractant management, translocation or, in situations where public safety concerns dictate that it would be too dangerous to move the bear, lethal removal.
Local aversive conditioning programs target individual bears in an attempt to alter negative behavior and keep them out of developed areas. This program has proven effective in ensuring bears remain on the landscape in high-use areas, such as campgrounds and picnic areas, with very few significant public safety concerns but has proven less effective in more developed areas, such as town sites.
Managing attractants can provide a long-term solution to reducing the desire for bears to be in developed areas. Removing natural foods such as buffaloberries and securing unnatural foods such as garbage by using bear-proof garbage cans are examples of effective tools in reducing bear activity in developed areas.
Dogs can further complicate human-bear encounters. Bears and dogs do not always get along so, for this reason, dogs must be kept on a leash unless in designated off leash areas. Bears that exhibit aggressive responses, such as bluff charges as a result of dogs chasing them or instances where a mother may be protecting its young or defending a carcass, are considered to be natural defensive responses. In incidents such as these, Government of Alberta staff would close the area to give the bear its space.
What if mitigation measures do not work?
There are times when proactive measures are not effective in reducing human-bear conflict incidents. In some instances, an individual bear will exhibit predatory and/or food conditioned behaviour which can be concerning to provincial bear managers for reasons of public safety. In such cases, after exhausting all other possible courses of action, the bear may need to be euthanized.
While it is never an easy decision, provincial wildlife officials sometimes need to euthanize problem animals to ensure public safety. Such decisions are not taken lightly, and are made after all other options have been carefully considered.