As grizzly bears start waking from their winter slumber across Alberta, one wildlife advocacy association is calling on the provincial government to do more to protect the threatened species.
Numbers released by the province in April show the number of grizzly bear deaths has been on the rise since 2008, with 2016 seeing 29 deaths — something the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) calls a “dismal record,” but the government doesn’t see it that way.
“AWA believes immediate action, including placing stringent limits on the amount of motorized access into grizzly bear habitat, must be taken to address the top reasons for grizzly bear deaths,” the association said in a release Thursday.
According to the provincial numbers, 11 grizzlies were killed in 2016 through an accidental human encounter, like being hit by a vehicle. In 2017, 9 were killed in an accidental encounter with a human.
Six “problem bears” were killed by authorities in 2016, with four being killed in 2017.
From 2016 to 2016, 13 grizzly bears were illegally killed in Alberta.
Last summer, humans had a number of notable encounters with grizzly bears across the province. Perhaps most notable were the many encounters Bear 148 had in and around Banff National Park and the town of Canmore.
The bear was legally killed by a hunter in B.C. after being relocated due to her many encounters with humans.
“Three of the past five years have seen significant spikes in the number of grizzly bears killed annually,” AWA conservation specialist Joanna Skragny said. “We are worried these increases will become ‘the new normal’ unless we do something immediately to address the issue.”
Grizzlies were declared a threatened species under the Alberta Wildlife Act in 2010.
In 2008, the province introduced a five-year Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan aimed at improving knowledge, reducing human-bear conflicts and reducing human-caused deaths.
Since then, the government has seen a steady increase in bear populations across the province, according to provincial carnivore specialist Paul Frame.
WATCH: A video captured by Alberta Environment and Parks shows Bear 164 roaming in the bush three days after being hit by a car on the highway.
When the recovery plan got underway, the target human-caused grizzly death rate was four per cent.
“We look at the numbers from 2016 and the numbers from 2017 and those both are below that four per cent human cause mortality target,” Frame said.
“In 2016 it was 3.6 per cent, in 2017 it was 2.7 per cent, so I guess I have a little different view of the human cause mortality than the AWA has.”
He said the government doesn’t feel it’s in a “sky is falling situation.”
“We actually think that we may be seeing the number of human-grizzly bear mortality increasing as we see the population in the province increase — in both numbers and range — which we’ve been documenting since 2014 when we did a couple of population inventories for a second time in different bear management areas.”
Frame credits several initiatives, including the highway overpasses and underpasses in Banff National Park, with reducing the number of bear deaths. He added officials have been working to install infrastructure like fencing in the Crowsnest Pass to keep bears off the highways.
Grizzly bears wander across a vast range in Alberta, from the Montana border to the border with the North West Territories.
It’s hoped government officials will have a better idea about the number of grizzlies that are in the province by the fall of 2019.