Field Season Updates and Results
We are pleased to report on the final results from the Southwestern Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project. Field work began in 2011 and was completed in 2014. During this time period, 899 rub objects were identified and several thousand hair samples were collected. Over 30 staff assisted in the collection of hair samples, and over 70 landowners and 4 livestock grazing cooperatives participated in this program. Certainly, this project would not have been possible without the community's support.
Below we have highlighted the main findings of our research:
Grizzly bears in in BMA 6 are part of a larger population that includes Montana and British Columbia. There is no ecological basis for partitioning an Alberta specific portion of this population. However, we manage grizzly bears on state and provincial boundaries so Alberta specific density and abundance estimates are important.
Using recently develop spatially explicit capture-recapture models, we estimated the number of BMA 6 resident bears (i.e. bears with home ranges centred in BMA 6) to be approximately 67 grizzly bears. This number represents a 4% per year increase since the previous 2007 estimate of 51 grizzly bears. This growth rate is similar to that documented in Montana.
Additionally, we estimated the number of bears using southwestern Alberta by using traditional capture mark-recapture models. We estimated that approximately 172 grizzly bears use BMA 6 each year. This number represents the number of bears that local communities are encountering and that have the potential to be involved in conflicts.
Results have been published in the Journal of Wildlife Management:
Morehouse, A. T., and M. S. Boyce. 2016. Grizzly bears without borders: Spatially explicit capture-recapture in southwestern Alberta. Journal of Wildlife Management. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21104
The paper is available at:
Thank you to the community and the numerous project partners and funders for all of their contributions and support over the duration of this project.
For additional information, please contact:
- Andrea Morehouse
2013 Field Season DNA Results
Wildlife Genetics International has finished analyzing the bear hair samples collected during the 2013 field season. The 2013 field season represented our first full year of sampling across our study area. We visited rub objects eight times over the course of the field season (late May through early November); first visit to clean and seven subsequent visits to sample. Additional hair samples were collected opportunistically by field technicians, Fish and Wildlife Officers, and landowners. Through these 2013 efforts we have detected 128 individual grizzly bears: 71 males and 57 females.
Genetic data from previous years is as follows:
- 2012: 122 bears identified. 78 of these were re-detected in 2013.
- 2011: 51 bears identified. 32 of these were re-detected in 2013. Only public land (40% of study area) was sampled this year.
Between the three years of sampling, we have now built a genetic database of 177 individual grizzly bears. These numbers represent the number of bears detected at some point over the duration of the field work. We are currently working on an updated population estimate.
2014 will be the final year of field work on this project. Additional information will be posted to this site as it becomes available.
2013 Field Season Update
This past summer marked the third field season of our program, and we are pleased to report it was a success. Because the initial rub object surveys were done in stages (public lands in 2011, private lands in 2012), 2013 represented the first field season that all rub objects within the study area were surveyed with the same intensity. Our primary goal for the 2013 field season was to visit all established rub objects every 3 weeks over the course of the field season, late May through early November; this results in 8 visits to each rub object (once to clean, and 7 times to sample hairs). We have successfully completed this goal.
Additionally, we have established new rub objects as they were encountered throughout the 2013 field season. Thus, from 2011 to 2013 we have identified 879 rub objects within the study area. Please see the enclosed map detailing rub object locations.
Our rub object sampling yielded approximately 4,200 hair samples for DNA analysis in 2013. Additionally, we collected approximately 350 opportunistic hair samples. These opportunistic hair samples came primarily from 2 sources:
- Producers and landowners collecting hair from grain bins, livestock depredation sites, fence lines, yard sites, etc.; and
- Grizzly bears captured by Fish and Wildlife Officers for management purposes.
Similar to our 2011/2012 hair samples, we will send samples from this field season to Wildlife Genetics International, a lab in Nelson, BC specializing in wildlife DNA analysis. We expect to have DNA results available by the beginning of July 2014. We will post DNA results to the project website once available. 2011 and 2012 DNA results are currently posted on the project website, and we encourage you to read through the material on the website for a more detailed explanation of the project. To date we have identified 133 individual grizzly bears within our study area.
Certainly, this project would not be possible without the support of the local communities, and we are thankful for the help and support we have received thus far. We will continue our surveys through 2014, which will be the final field year of this pilot program. We will spend 2015 analyzing our data to provide updated density and population estimates. We look forward to continuing our work with the communities of southwestern Alberta on this project. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us.
2012 Field Season DNA Results
Wildlife Genetics International has finished analyzing the hair samples collected for genetic analysis during the 2012 field season.
The analysis of these hair samples resulted in the detection of 122 unique individual grizzly bears - 72 males and 50 females. This number represents a minimum number of grizzly bears in the study area, and is not meant as a population estimate.
As indicated by previous research efforts, bears move between Montana, British Columbia and Alberta throughout the year.
by collaborating with other DNA-based sampling efforts in the Northern Continental Divide "Crown of the Continent" Ecosystem, future analysis and monitoring will help to further understand this movement.
We surveyed public and private land within our study area in 2012. Rub objects were visited 8 times on public land, and twice on private and lease land. To collect hair samples, all rub objects throughout the study area will be visited 8 times during the 2013 field season. A map of all rub objects is available in the "2012 Field Season Update" section of this website.
2012 Field Season Update
The summer of 2012 marked the second field season of our program, and we are pleased to report it was a success. This was the first year of monitoring on private lands, and we would like to extend a huge "thank you" to all participating landowners who have given graciously of their time and knowledge, and access to their lands.
We had two primary goals for the 2012 field season:
- Visit all 501 rub objects (established on public land during the 2011 field season) every three weeks from June 1 through November 10, for a total of eight visits to each rub object.
- Survey private and lease land throughout the study area for new rub objects, to ensure we have fully sampled all lands currently being used by grizzly bears.
We successfully completed those objectives. We established 330 new rub objects:
- 302 on private/lease land
- 23 in the forest reserve
- 5 in Waterton Lakes National Park
As a combination of 2011 and 2012 field efforts, 831 rub objects have been identified within the study area.
Surveying for rub objects is a challenging and time-consuming task, and accomplishing this goal took the majority of our time this field season. Thus, while established rub objects were visited eight times, new private/lease rub objects were visited only twice this year. In the future, all rub objects will be visited eight times.
Our rub tree visits yielded approximately 4,200 hair samples. Additionally, we collected approximately 300 opportunistic hair samples. These opportunistic hair samples came primarily from two sources:
- Producers and landowners collecting hair from grain bins, livestock depredation sites, fence lines, yard sites, etc.
- Grizzly bears captured by Fish and Wildlife Officers for management purposes.
As was done with samples from 2011, samples from the 2012 field season were sent to Wildlife Genetics International -- a lab in Nelson, British Columbia that specializes in wildlife DNA analysis. DNA results are anticipated by June, 2013. Results will be posted to this website once available.
Certainly, this project would not be possible without the support of the local communities, and we are thankful for the help and support we have received thus far. We look forward to continuing our work with the communities of southwestern Alberta on this project. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us.
- Andrea Morehouse, Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project Coordinator
Tel: 403 627-1143
2011 Field Season Results
- Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project – 2011 Grizzly Bear Detections Map and Rub Objects
2011 DNA Results
Wildlife Genetics International has finished analyzing the hair samples collected during the 2011 field season that were sent in for genetic analysis.
The analysis of these hair samples resulted in the detection of 51 unique individual grizzly bears - 33 males and 18 females. This number represents a minimum number of grizzly bears in the study area, and is NOT meant as a population estimate.
We only surveyed public land within the study area (south of Highway 3) and collected hair samples once from rub objects in forestry and twice from rub objects in Waterton. We expect to detect more grizzly bears through our survey efforts on private and lease lands during the current 2012 field season, and will continue to monitor and collect hair samples from our previously established rub objects.
It is also important to note that the home ranges of some of these bears likely extend into Montana and British Columbia, and we are currently working with our collaborators to examine that connection.
We will post more information regarding the locations of these grizzly bear detections as soon as possible. Please continue to watch this webpage for updates.
About the Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project
The goal of this pilot project is to monitor grizzly bear populations over time, in a way that is cost-effective, non-invasive and uses the knowledge of people living in the area.
For a map of the 2011 and 2012 rub object locations, see the 2012 Field Season Update above.
Where Does this Study Take Place?
This study takes place in the southwest corner of Alberta - south of Highway 3 - where there is a high density of grizzly bears. It is considered a pilot project, and if the research is successful and funding is available, projects using similar methods may be carried out in other parts of the province.
What Other Organizations are Partnering on this Project?
The department is working with:
- Parks Division - AEP
- Parks Canada
- United States Geological Survey (USGS)
- University of Alberta (U of A)
The following organizations have provided in-kind and/or financial contributions and we are grateful for their support:
- Alberta Conservation Association Grants in Biodiversity
- Alberta Ecotrust
- Alberta Innovates – Bio Solutions
- Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
- Drywood Yarrow Conservation Partnership
- Environment Canada
- Hunting for Tomorrow - Minister's Special License Grant Program
- International Association for Bear Research and Management
- Miistakis Institute
- Nature Conservancy Canada
- Safari Club International Northern Alberta Chapter
- Shell Canada
- TD Friends of the Environment Foundation
- Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association
How Will the Bears be Monitored in this Project?
This project tracks the presence of bears by removing the hair left on trees, fences, sign posts, power lines etc. that the bears have rubbed against.
Genetic analysis of the hairs will be used to determine the species, sex and individual identity of each bear.
Why Use Hair Left on Rub Trees to Monitor Bear Populations?
Rubbing is a natural behaviour for bears. Rubbing trees and other surfaces leaves hairs and scents that help the bears mark their territories.
Removing hair from rub sites is more economical and less demanding of personnel than traditional bear monitoring methods (i.e. radio-collaring) and does not require that the bear be trapped, sedated or lured in using food scents.
Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 1
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 2
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 3
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 4
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 5
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 6
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 7
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 8
- Southwest Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project 9
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has been using similar research methods to monitor Montana bear populations. Alberta Fish and Wildlife will be working with researchers from the USGS to benefit from their expertise, and to learn how grizzly bear populations move across the Montana-Alberta border.
For USGS videos of bears rubbing trees, visit the USGS website at:
How Will the Bear Population be Monitored Over Time?
Traditional DNA population estimates produce only a snapshot of population size, and provide no information on how bear populations are changing between years. By collecting hair samples multiple times per year as well as over a longer time period, we will be able to track relative changes in bear populations, densities, and distributions.
How Can the Public Become Involved?
Local landowners may be asked to provide access to their property and information about grizzly bear activity that they've witnessed in the area.
Others who are working or recreating in the research area are asked to leave the bear rub sites undisturbed.