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Grizzly bears are an iconic symbol of Alberta's wilderness, valued by resource and non-resource users alike as an important part of Alberta's natural and cultural landscape. The Southern Bear Management Area 5 (BMA 5) Grizzly Bear Inventory Project is a collaborative effort between Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) and the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) to monitor grizzly bear populations in the southern portion of Bear Management Area 5 in southwest Alberta.
The last grizzly bear population estimate for this area was completed in 2006 as part of a larger population study that occurred throughout Alberta from 2004 through 2008. The population estimate for BMA 5 at that time was 89.9 grizzly bears or a density of 11.8 bears per 1,000 square kilometres (km2). The 2008-2013 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan recommended that population units be re-evaluated every 5 years.
In 2010, grizzly bears were designated as Threatened under the provincial Wildlife Act, and in 2012, the western population was federally designated as a Species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
Today, continued monitoring of the species occurs throughout the province. AEP has indicated that monitoring Bear Management Area 5 (BMA 5) for the purposes of collecting information on grizzly bear population density and distribution is a priority.
Where Does this Study Take Place?
This study area extends from Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass to the southern extent of Kananaskis country in the north. The provincial BMA 5 boundary extends beyond our study area, and data collection on grizzly bear populations has been completed in the north half.
Once our work is complete, we will work collaboratively with all BMA 5 grizzly bear monitoring partners to complete our overall goal of providing an updated grizzly bear population and density estimate for this region of Alberta.
The following organizations have provided in-kind and/or financial contributions and we are grateful for their support:
- Bear Scare Ltd.
- Benga Mining Limited a/o Riversdale Resources
- Cycle Works Motorsports
- Municipal District of Ranchlands
- Nature Conservancy of Canada
- Safari Club International - Northern Alberta Chapter
- Spray Lake Sawmills
- Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association
How the Grizzly Bears are Monitored
Grizzly bears rub on trees, fence posts, sign posts, and power poles. This rubbing behaviour is primarily believed to be a form of communication. As a result of the rubbing, the rub objects develop certain characteristics – they tend to be smooth and discoloured on the rub side, sometimes bite marks and claw marks are present, bear trails occasionally lead to the rub object, and of course bear hair is on the surface. Rubbing is a natural bear behaviour; no lures or attractants are being used in this study. We have attached barbed wire to the rub objects to facilitate the collection of hair samples. We use the term "rub object" loosely because it also refers to stretches of barbed wire fence that the bear may have passed along or travelled through.
Hair samples will be sent to Wildlife Genetics International in Nelson, BC. Through the extraction of nuclear DNA from the hair follicle, we will identify species, sex, and individual identity of the bears. The DNA results will be used in combination with data from the northern portion of BMA 5 in a spatially explicit capture recapture framework to estimate grizzly bear density and abundance in BMA 5.
Progress to Date
During 2016, we visited each rub object four times over the course of the field season (June through early September). In the first visit, we cleaned all barbs and in the three subsequent visits we collected all hair samples. Our field work took place in the southern portion of BMA 5. We sent hair samples to Wildlife Genetics International (WGI) for DNA analysis, and have now received the DNA results.
The detection numbers presented here are from our study area only and are not representative of grizzly bears in the entirety of BMA 5. Through our sampling efforts, we have detected 38 individual grizzly bears in the southern portion of BMA 5: 17 females and 21 males. These data represent the number of bears detected through our sampling and are not a population estimate.
We are currently analyzing these data and will provide an updated density and abundance estimate once the analysis is complete. Additionally, we are collaborating with other biologists working in the northern portion of BMA 5 to provide a more complete understanding of the grizzly bear population in this BMA. Additional information will be posted to this site as it becomes available.