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B.C.’s iconic grizzly bear adapting to coexist with people in the Okanagan

B.C.’s iconic grizzly bear adapting to coexist with people in the Okanagan

The Okanagan Valley is home to many species, including grizzly bears.

“They’re there, there’s no question,” said Clayton Lamb, a wildlife scientist at the University of British Columbia.

“Not in the valley bottom proper, but right on the edge, right where the trees end and grass starts, there are bears right there,” Lamb told Global News.

Read more: Concerns raised as people crowd rare white grizzly in Banff and Yoho parks

If anyone should know just how many grizzly bears are living in the Okanagan, it’s Clayton Lamb.

Lamb is a post-doctoral fellow at UBC Okanagan’s campus, where his PhD work focused on ursus arcto horribillis — the grizzly bear.

Lamb’s research shows that  the population of grizzlies in the Okanagan is on the rise.

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In a 2015 study of the Granby grizzly bear population located just east of the Big White area,  Lamb found an increase in density of grizzly bears, and that those bears are moving west towards the Okanagan.

“They are moving their way in and the Okanagan is going to be a very challenging place to coexist with grizzly bears,” Lamb said.

B.C. man who fought off grizzly bear with pocket knife shares survival story
B.C. man who fought off grizzly bear with pocket knife shares survival story

The fact that grizzlies are in the Okanagan, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the name Kelowna is derived from an Okanagan language term ‘Kim-ach-touch’ meaning brown bear.

Over time ‘Kim-ach-touch’ became Kelowna, meaning grizzly bear.

Lamb has just helped publish another study on grizzly bears in B.C., and how exactly they are coexisting with people.

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‘It really came from a genuine place of curiosity in some ways. I mean, I live right in the middle of bear country,” said Lamb.

 

Triplet grizzly bear cubs from Alberta find new home at B.C. zoo
Triplet grizzly bear cubs from Alberta find new home at B.C. zoo

Lamb resides in Fernie, B.C., a town that has it fair share of conflicts with bears, both black and grizzlies.

For the study, Lamb reviewed more than 40 years of grizzly bear data.

“Following animals with collars, knowing how they survive, where they live, how many cubs they have,” explained Lamb.

The result, said Lamb, was a ‘big picture view’ of what was happening all across B.C. in terms of the grizzly bear’s status.

3 grizzlies spotted in Alberta woman’s backyard
3 grizzlies spotted in Alberta woman’s backyard

What Lamb found was that grizzlies are adapting their behaviour in order avoid conflict and survive next to or among human populations.

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“The adults were using the landscape more and at night, so we say that they were going more nocturnal,” Lamb said.

“That really allows them to co-exist with people, in that they temporally space away, we go to bed and they come out.”

However, it takes time for grizzly bears to learn these lessons.

“We found that young bears survived very poorly,” said Lamb, who added that adult bears living next to human populations survived almost as well as adult bears in the wilderness.

Large area of Kananaskis Country closed after bear ‘made contact with hiker’
Large area of Kananaskis Country closed after bear ‘made contact with hiker’

The study’s other main finding was that in order for grizzly bear populations to survive, the population needed immigrant bears to sustain itself, because becoming nocturnal isn’t enough for a grizzly to stay alive near humans.

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“These kind of groups of bears near people, they cannot produce enough cubs to sustain themselves,” Lamb said.

“Even though that nocturnality is helping them, it’s still not enough,”.

Lamb says in order for grizzlies to coexist with people, another large carnivore has to adapt its behaviour as well: Man.

“We need to make some changes,” Lamb said of living with grizzlies, “we still have a ways to go.”