No Justification for a Resumption of Grizzly Hunt
February 20, 2013
It is a matter of great concern that reports of increased grizzly sightings in 2012 over previous years, especially on private lands in the southwest corner of the province, have led to calls from area residents for a resumption of the grizzly hunt. While AWA acknowledges that grizzly populations in that corner of the province may be on the rise, we caution that there remains a large gap between this localized increase, and the conditions needed to justify a resumption of the hunt that was suspended for very good reasons.
It is a matter of note that there have been reports of increased grizzly sightings in 2012 over previous years; especially on private lands in the southwest corner of the province, from the M.D. of Ranchlands down to Waterton Lakes. This has led to calls from area residents for a resumption of the grizzly hunt, as reported in various media outlets this Family Day long weekend.
While AWA acknowledges that grizzly populations in that corner of the province may be on the rise, we caution that there remains a large gap between this localized increase, and the conditions needed to justify a resumption of the hunt that was suspended for very good reasons.
There are many more things that we don’t know about the increased sightings, than things that we do. To summarize a few of those unknowns:
Here’s what we do know so far:
This is not to suggest that all the news is necessarily bad; there is of course a strong undercurrent of good news to these reports that should not go unacknowledged. And if indeed these are the first signs of a long-term recovery to a self-sustaining grizzly population, no-one would be happier. At the same time, it is premature to be considering a resumption of the hunt just yet.
AWA draws attention to the Government of Alberta’s commitment that the grizzly hunt will not be resumed until the conditions laid out in Appendix 1 to the 2008 Alberta Grizzly Recovery Plan are met. Those conditions include not only the requirement that a DNA census or habitat-based density study be done, but also:
The above is not an exhaustive list of the conditions outlined in Appendix 1, but does include a sampling of the research that is still pending at this time, before any resumption of the hunt can be considered.
AWA is aware of an ongoing AESRD study involving samples taken from “bear rub trees” in the Castle area. However we are concerned that while this study may answer some questions, many of the “unknowns” listed above will not be addressed by such a study. These unknowns would seem to be pertinent factors in light of the emphasized provision from Appendix 1.
In an October, 2012 meeting with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) Minister Diana McQueen, AWA was led to believe that the existing recovery plan was to be approved for another 5 years with only minor changes, specifically to reflect that:
This seems at some odds with the comments reported in a Feb. 17 Calgary Herald story. Those comments assert that an update of the recovery strategy is expected to be “ready and operational by early 2014,” and that it will “reflect a lot of new information and research that has come in since that last recovery plan was developed.”
As the current plan expires on April 1, 2013, what does this mean for the intervening year or so before the updated version takes place? Will the existing plan continue to drive operational policy? Will Alberta’s grizzlies be without any management plan for this year? This is a matter of no small concern.
AWA has asked AESRD for a clarification on these matters. We have also asked to be apprised of the nature of the changes that will or will not be incorporated into the updated Recovery Plan, and why it is expected to take so long.
Finally, AWA would like to commend the work being undertaken by AESRD with regards to its BearSmart and other human-bear conflict avoidance programs. These are programs that have been demonstrated to work and to make a difference in communities where they have taken hold.
If anything, these programs show that humans and bears can live on the landscape together. They demonstrate that the safety concerns of the landowners who are perceiving an increase of grizzlies near their homes and ranches are rooted in a lack of experience and education, not from any widespread danger that grizzlies pose to humans.
Many of the “problem bears” that have had to be relocated or euthanized have become that way due to poor materials storage and garbage-management practices. Where programs are in place to educate ranchers, and to provide alternative storage and disposal options, grizzlies and humans can live together with minimal mutual disturbance. We strongly encourage an increased allotment of resources to this kind of program as an alternative to having to deal with “problem bears” and especially as an alternative to any incautious resumption of the hunt.