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Seen by many as the perfect symbol of Alberta’s untamed wilderness, the grizzly bear is one of the most magnificent and prestigious wildlife species in Alberta.

The future survival and recovery of Alberta’s grizzly bears depends on the protection and recovery of the landscapes that they rely on. Successful grizzly bear recovery will require a well-funded and credible recovery plan that enforces legislative protection of core habitat, and supports management strategies that reduce human-caused mortalities.

    • Introduction
    • Features
    • Concerns
    • History
    • Archive
    • Other Areas

    Once roaming extensively throughout the province, grizzly bears represent the untamed and bountiful wilderness that characterizes Alberta. Unfortunately, ongoing human encroachment and disturbance throughout grizzly bear habitat continues to threaten the security and recovery of this keystone species.

    AWA is working diligently towards ensuring that grizzly bears are successfully recovered within the province of Alberta, focusing efforts on protecting and reducing human access into vital habitat, advocating for scientifically credible recovery and management strategies, in addition to supporting comprehensive and well-funded Bearsmart programs that increase public awareness and promote co-existence with grizzly bears.


    Grizzly in Kananaskis. Photo credit R. Douglas.


    While grizzly bears once roamed and thrived across all of Alberta, their range has contracted significantly; they now reside solely within Alberta’s Rocky Mountain and Foothills Natural Regions. Currently, the grizzly bear is considered a species at risk within Alberta, and was formally designated as a Threatened species in 2010 under Alberta’s Wildlife Act.

    In 2002, grizzly bears were first assessed and recommended for designation by Alberta’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee (ESCC), however, the recommendation was not accepted by the Minister of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development at the time. Instead, a Recovery Team was appointed to develop a Recovery Plan, and an external review was commissioned by the Minister to evaluate the hunting management system, in addition to initiating a program to provide more accurate population estimates. Following that assessment, hunting permits were reduced in 2003 and 2004, eventually culminating to the full closure of licenced grizzly bear hunting in Alberta in 2006. The first draft of a 5 year Recovery Plan was completed in 2008, and was accepted by the Minister for implementation. In 2010, an updated status assessment was completed, ultimately resulting in the formal designation of ‘Threatened’ for the species. Alberta’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan was updated in 2016, and again in 2020.

    The results of a province-wide census released in early 2021 estimate the Alberta grizzly population to be between 856 and 973 bears.

    National Status: In 2018 the western population of grizzly bears was designated as a species of Special Concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.


    The Government of Alberta is responsible, by means of the Wildlife Act, for managing wildlife populations that range within the boundaries of provincial public land; areas of federal jurisdiction (National Parks, National Wildlife Areas, etc.) are the responsibility of the federal government.

    As an initial first step, the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan (2008) described the demographic boundaries of important grizzly bear habitat throughout the province. The Recovery Plan identified 7 demographically separate Bear Management Areas (BMAs), and further delineated various levels of habitat within BMAs, Core and Secondary (buffer) Zones, in addition to Grizzly Bear Priority Areas (GPAs). The intent of GPAs was to consolidate resources and efforts by identifying areas of high quality habitat for grizzly bears within each BMA, and managing them in such a way as to ensure the quality is maintained, and that its condition was not impaired by human motorized access. Aside from limiting factors such as low reproductive rates and a relatively small population size, human-caused mortality by means of increased motorized access into grizzly bear was identified as the main source of grizzly bear mortality in Alberta. The Recovery Plan (2008) recognized linear features such seismic lines, roads, motorized trails and routes as a primary means of facilitating human motorized access into grizzly bear habitat, therein increasing the risk of human-bear conflict and bear mortality. Human-bear deaths can range from direct causes such as poaching and vehicle collisions, to indirect causes such as reduced feeding opportunities from avoiding humans and/or creating dangerous bears through repeated exposures to human sources of food such as garbage, habituating them.

    In attempt to mitigate the effects of human motorized access into grizzly bear habitat, the concept of access density thresholds was introduced as a habitat performance measure. The Recovery Plan (2008) established “open route densities at or below 0.6km/km2 in high quality grizzly bear habitat designated as Grizzly Bear Priority Areas (GPAs), and open route densities at or below 1.2km/km2 in all remaining grizzly bear range.”

    In 2016, the Recovery Plan was revised, and while it still attributed human-caused mortality as the main driver behind population declines for grizzly bears, it redefined access density thresholds to pertain to open roads, rather than open routes and as a result, many other linear features (off-highway vehicle trails, seismic lines, etc.), which do increase human activity in grizzly bear habitat, were not included in the assessment to determine grizzly habitat security. The rationale used to justify this revision was that, “open roads, which are defined as access that is reasonably drivable with on-highway vehicles (i.e. paved or graveled), are much easier to define…” Revisions from 2016 also included the addition of 3 zones clarifying the spatial context for management strategies and priorities:

    1. The Recovery Zone: an amalgamation of the Core and Secondary Zone with National Parks explicitly identifying locations within Alberta where the Government of Alberta intends to manage the recover of grizzly bears.
    2. The Support Zone: intended to support grizzly bears, particularly females and sows with cubs that have home ranges only partly encompassing the Recovery Zone.
    3. Habitat Linkage Zone: is the area along major east-west highway corridors that separates the provincial grizzly bear population into demographic units, represented as a 5.0km buffer zone alongside major highway corridors that transect the Recovery Zone.

    The 2016 revision to the Recovery Plan also amended the recovery targets of 1,000 mature adults to include a proviso that, “if the issues associated with human-caused mortality and the supply of high quality secure habitat can be successfully addressed, then the status of grizzly bears in Alberta could be down-listed from Threatened with fewer than 1000 mature individuals being estimated in the province.” This amendment was justified on the rationale that grizzly bears in some BMAs are well-connected to populations in adjacent jurisdictions (i.e.: BC and/or Montana). It was recognized that “secure habitat” requires not only an abundance of food, but also low mortality risk (ergo low road density, among other factors).

    AWA cautions that much of Alberta’s habitat in Alberta does not meet this last criterion, and any demographic rescue from adjacent jurisdictions is unlikely to be successful until issues regarding linear disturbance and other human incursion are addressed. AWA also notes that only some Alberta populations have high connectivity; many others do not. The target of 1,000 mature individuals should remain the minimum under consideration. Based on estimates from respected grizzly bear biologist Gord Stenhouse the total provincial grizzly bear population would need to be 2,222 in order to contain about 1,000 mature bears (this information will be aired in a future episode of Exposed with John E. Marriott).

    A later revision to the Recovery Plan (dated July 1, 2020) was released in early 2021 but remains substantially the same as the 2016 draft.

    Species Description

    The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) – or brown bear – is one of Alberta’s two bear species, the latter being black bears. Grizzly bears are best distinguished from black bears by morphological traits; grizzly bears are generally much larger than black bears, and have a pronounced shoulder hump and flat dish-shaped face. Coat, or pelage, colour is not always the best approach in identifying grizzly bears apart from black bears, as grizzly bears have variable coat colours ranging from blonde to dark brown. Male grizzly bears are larger than their female counterparts, weighing anywhere between 200-300kg, while females range between 100-200kg.

    Photo © AWA FILES

    Grizzly bears are true omnivores, with their natural diet consisting of grasses, forbs, roots, sedges, berries, nuts, carrion, fish, rodents, insects, birds, and ungulates. Due to significant human encroachment and settlement into grizzly bear habitat, grizzly bears are also opportunistic feeders, taking advantage of garbage, seeds and grains, in addition to hunting livestock like calves. In order for grizzly bears to survive, their home ranges must overlap with several food sources. As a result of fluctuations in food availability, seasonal or otherwise, grizzly bears have large and diverse home ranges; males can establish an annual home range of 500 to 4700km2, while females generally occupy an area ranging between 150 to 3000 km2. Multiple factors dictate home range size including population density, sex, age, reproductive status, in addition to food availability and distribution. Typically, grizzly bears can occupy smaller home ranges in high quality food habitats, but require an expansive range in cooler and drier climates where food is less abundant. In the fall, grizzlies are almost entirely focused on feeding to build up fat reserves for winter hibernation. If they can feed well enough, they stand a good chance of surviving the winter: if not they won’t. High energy food sources such as berries or whitebark pine seeds are crucial at this time of year.

    Grizzly bears are limited by low reproductive rates, with individuals taking several years to reach sexual maturity, and producing small litter sizes intermittently, every 3 or 4 years on average. Cubs are born in the den in the spring and remain dependent on their mother for 2-5 years before dispersing and establishing their own home range. Comparatively, juvenile males disperse farther and over a longer period of time, taking up to four years to establish themselves.


    Historically, Alberta is estimated to have had 6-9,000 grizzly bears which ranged extensively across the province and well into Saskatchewan and Manitoba. With the disappearance of the plains grizzly in the late 1800’s, grizzly bears are now largely extirpated or transient throughout most of their historical range in Alberta, and currently reside within the Rocky Mountain and Foothills Natural Regions. Alberta’s current population estimate is between 856 and 973 bears.

    Grizzly Bear Management Areas. Map © Government of Alberta


    The underlying cause of Alberta’s low grizzly bear population is habitat disturbance, and human-caused mortality. Alberta’s mountains and foothills are subject to an ever-increasing network of linear features, such as trails, routes, and roads that facilitate human access into previously inaccessible areas, degrading the quality and quantity of grizzly bear habitat. Scientific research has established that grizzly bear mortality has been correlated with roads, with higher road densities creating habitat sinks for populations (Stenhouse et al. 2003a). Of 172 reported human-caused grizzly mortalities on provincial lands, 89% were within 500m of a road (Benn 1998). Additionally, other studies have found that linear features have the potential to increase the risk of poaching (Recovery Plan, 2008).

    AWA believes that in order to conserve grizzly bears within the province of Alberta substantial efforts need to be made in legislatively protecting vital habitat, preventing further degradation of quality habitat needed in order to stabilize and recover Alberta’s population. Efforts should be focused in regions throughout the Rocky Mountains and Foothills such as the Bighorn, Castle, Chinchaga, and the Swan Hills. Precedence should also be set in securing critical habitat for grizzly bears by reducing the level of human disturbance within grizzly habitat. This would include closing and reclaiming the extensive network of linear features throughout grizzly bear habitat that facilitate motorized human access, ultimately reducing the risk of human-caused mortality.



    On March 31, Results of a province-wide DNA census are released, giving an estimated total population of between 865 and 973 grizzlies in Alberta. This is the first census that has been undertaken across the entire province; earlier counts were performed in a subset of BMAs (Bear Management Areas) with population estimates for other areas extrapolated from that more limited census. While the number is higher than previously estimated in some areas, it is still far below the population figure of 1,489 that AWA believes should be the minimum threshold before any upgrading of their conservation status is considered.

    In March, Alberta Environment and Parks publishes an update to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. While the Plan has a publication date of July 1 2020, it only became available to the public in March 2021. The revised plan contains cosmetic updates, but its content is substantially unchanged from the 2016 draft version.

    Of growing concern is the amendment to the recovery targets of 1,000 mature adults which now includes a proviso that if “a supply of high-quality secure habitat through appropriate land management can be ensured” then “all else being equal, an improvement in conservation status listing would be considered even at an abundance below 1000 mature individuals.” This amendment was justified on the rationale that grizzly bears in some BMAs are well-connected to populations in adjacent jurisdictions (i.e.: BC and/or Montana) which allows “the potential for ‘rescue’ by movement of individuals from a neighbouring population.” It is recognized in the Recovery Plan that “secure habitat” requires not only an abundance of food, but also low mortality risk (e.g.: low road density, among other factors).

    AWA cautions that much of Alberta’s habitat in Alberta does not meet this last criterion, and any demographic rescue from adjacent jurisdictions is unlikely to be successful until issues regarding linear disturbance and other human incursion are addressed. AWA also notes that only some Alberta populations have high connectivity; many others do not. The target of 1,000 mature individuals should remain the minimum under consideration. Based on estimates from respected grizzly bear biologist Gord Stenhouse the total provincial grizzly bear population would need to be 2,222 in order to contain about 1,000 mature bears (this information will be aired in a future episode of Exposed with John E. Marriott).


    On November 25, two men who shot a grizzly bear at a campside in Indian Graves PRA in November 2018, then threatened a witness with an axe, are convicted and fined $22,000. The fine was for killing the bear and for unlawful possession of wildlife. They were also given a one-year conditional sentence and a three-year hunting suspension. While the men attempted to claim self-defence, no evidence was found to support that claim.

    On September 3, a mother grizzly — bear No. 143 — and two cubs, including a rare blond-headed grizzly, are killed in Banff National Park when the mother is struck by a train in what is referred to as “a major loss to the population.” The cubs are believed to have succumbed to predation shortly after. Bear No. 143 was known to have regularly crossed the border back and forth from BC, giving credence to concerns that habitat degradation in Alberta is causing it to be a sink for neighbouring populations. As a young mother, bear No. 143 was the kind of grizzly that is most important for the continued survival of the species. At least 17 grizzlies are known to have died from trains in Banff National Park between 2000 and 2017.

    In May, Alberta Fish and Game officers locate three orphaned grizzly bear cubs after their mother is shot and killed by black bear hunters. The cubs were temporarily placed with the Calgary Zoo until a permanent residence could be found. AWA along with fellow conservationists petitioned the provincial government to allow for the rehabilitation and ultimate release of the cubs in Alberta. As a Threatened species, AWA believes the rehabilitation of grizzly bears within Alberta should be allowed.


    On September 1, Grizzly mortality figures for 2018 are released by the Government of Alberta, showing that 23 bears were known to have died in that calendar year, with at least 20 of those deaths attributable to human causes.

    On August 28, The summer of 2019 only further contributes to the increasing number of human-caused mortalities for Alberta’s grizzly population, with the death of a 275 kg male grizzly near Jumpingpound Creek after being struck by a vehicle. This marks the third male grizzly to be killed in that area in the past five years due to highway traffic. Earlier in the summer, two grizzly bears, a male and female, were struck near the Trans-Canada highway within 10 days of each other.


    In May, the Alberta Government releases the number of recorded grizzly bear deaths over the last two years, showing that the threatened species is dying at a troubling rate. Grizzly bear deaths in 2016 marked the highest number of human-caused grizzly deaths since stopping the hunt in 2006. When the Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan was written in 2008, it was estimated that there were fewer than 700 grizzlies remaining in the province. AWA is awaiting an updated population assessment to be published in the final recovery plan.


    In September, Bear 148 is shot and killed by a hunter in British Columbia, approximately 500 kilometers away from her home range.

    In July, a large female grizzly, identified as bear 148, is seen frequenting areas east of Banff National Park in search of food. Bear 148 becomes ‘famous’ as she encapsulates the challenge of humans and wildlife coexisting on a busy landscape. She is relocated multiple times, once to the western edge of her home range in the Kootenay National Park, and finally into the Kakwa wilderness.


    From February to March, citing increased grizzly visibility near their properties, a group of ranchers calls for a resumption of the grizzly hunt to deal with “problem bears.” The Alberta Fish & Game Association (AFGA) echoes this call in two resolutions passed during their February 28 AGM. AWA and other conservation groups remain firmly against the hunt, and remind the Government of Alberta regarding their commitments in this matter. There is no indication from AESRD that the hunt is to be resumed.

    An AESRD “hair snare” study in BMA 6 that uses DNA samples taken from grizzly hair rubs to conduct a population estimate wraps up its second season of data collection. Results from the first season, 2011, indicated the same number of bears on public lands as had been previously estimated to live in all of BMA 6. Results from the second season, 2012, are expected to include private lands, and be finished analysis in June.


    In October, AWA and other conservation groups meet with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD) Minister regarding the Recovery Plan that is due to expire April 1, 2013. Reassurance is given that the plan is to be renewed for a further five years without substantial change. Assurance is also given that there are no plans to reverse the ban on hunting, which will not be reversed unless the necessary conditions as outlined in the Recovery Plan’s Appendix 1 are met.

    In June, though recorded grizzly deaths fell in 2010, the number of bears relocated jumped noticeably, according to the Alberta government’s newly released annual update on grizzly recovery.

    In the area between Highways 1 and 3, where the grizzly population is estimated at 90 bears, six bears were recorded killed in 2010, and another nine were relocated out of the area. Fifteen bears removed from a population of 90 in one year is obviously a huge hit for a threatened species, especially such a slow-reproducing one.

    AWA and other groups call for serious investment in a coordinated program to reduce the attractants that bring bears into contact with people, to the detriment of both.

    In March, the first official grizzly record of the spring is an adult male shot and killed by a landowner near Coleman. The bear was defending a deer carcass and charged the man. This is an inauspicious start to the year for the imperiled grizzly, particular as mortality levels for bears in the Castle/ Crowsnest region have been unsustainably high for several years.


    On September 9, Environmental groups, including AWA, call for a moratorium on all new road development in grizzly bear range, until access density thresholds recommended in the 2008 provincial grizzly recovery plan are met.

    In August, a new report reveals that motorized access density in southern Alberta’s Ghost Watershed is more than three times that officially recorded by the Alberta government, and more than four times the maximum recommended in the province’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. The report, An Assessment of Cumulative Effects of Land Uses in the Ghost River Watershed, Alberta, Canada was prepared for the Ghost Watershed Alliance Society by ALCES Landscape and Land-use Ltd.

    The 53,000-ha study area has approximately 2,780 km of roads, trails and other linear features of 5.12 km/km2 – average landscape edge density measured in the Ghost report.  This compares to:

    • 1.42 km/km2 – Ghost access level as measured by Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, and
    • 1.20 km/km2 – maximum access density as recommended for this grizzly bear habitat in the province’s 2008 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.

    Other key findings from the report include:

    • The ability of the area to support grizzly bears is restricted by many things, “including high densities and motorized use of linear features, forestry clearcuts, poor management of attractant foods by random campers and lack of food storage and garbage facilities.”
    • “(T)he need for more effective enforcement of [off highway vehicle] regulation… to help maintain or restore key environmental indicators and recreational opportunities for non-motorized users.”

    In June, more detailed grizzly mortality figures for Alberta are released by the provincial government. These reveal that mortality levels in the Castle region remain at shockingly high levels. The population in this region was estimated in 2010 to be 51 individuals. In 2010, five bears were killed in the area and one more relocated out of the region. This adds to the 5 bears removed from the population (one killed and four relocated) in 2009. The Castle continues to be a significant population sink for grizzlies.

    In March, mortality figures for Alberta grizzlies in 2010 are released. An estimated 29 grizzlies died in Alberta, approximately 4.2 percent of the population. This level of mortality is much higher than the 2.8 percent mortality rate suggested as “sustainable” in the Alberta government’s own 2010 report, Status of the Alberta Grizzly Bear in Alberta.

    Global Forest Watch (GFW) Canada produce a new report: Castle Area Forest Land Use Zone: Linear Disturbances, Access Densities and Grizzly Bear Habitat Security Areas. The report finds that the total length of roads and trails that are potentially used by off-highway vehicles within the Castle is 1,283 km, or a density of 1.3 km/km2. The Castle falls within one of the Core Grizzly Bear areas recognized by the Alberta government: access densities in these areas are intended to be no higher than 0.6 km/km2. Motorized access in the Castle goes far beyond the designated trail system. The report concludes that the Castle Special Management Area is no longer secure for grizzly bears and that sustainable environmental management of the Castle wilderness is not occurring. The report concludes “The Castle Area Forest Land Use Zone is not being managed according to its mandate, regulations or stated purpose. Access is not being controlled, and is a threat to all other public values of this area.”


    On June 3, Minister announces that the province is now designating the grizzly bear a threatened species. This comes 8 years after the recommendation from the province’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee. Although the listing under Alberta’s Wildlife Act does not commit the government to much more action, it is an important symbolic act, recognizing the perilous plight of the province’s grizzlies and suggesting that recovery actions will now begin.

    In May, a major new report, Grizzly Challenge: Ensuring a Future for Alberta’s Grizzlies, is published. The report, commissioned by seven organizations (AWA, CPAWS, Y2Y, Wild Canada Conservation Alliance, Sierra Club Canada, David Suzuki Foundation and Natural Resource Defense Council), and written by biologist Jeff Gailus, is released May 28 at a packed news conference at Calgary Zoo.

    The report looks at the current status of Alberta’s grizzly population – “small and very likely declining” – and reviews the provincial Grizzly Bear Recovery plan, released in August 2008. “The current recovery plan is a good first step, but parts of it are not adequate to achieve the plan’s stated goal to ‘restore, and ensure the long-term viability of, a self-sustaining grizzly bear population’ across ‘current provincial distribution and occupancy levels’.”

    In April, the provincial Endangered Species Conservation Committee repeats its 2002 recommendation that the grizzly be designated a threatened species.

    In March, the Government of Alberta publishes its new report, Status of the Grizzly Bear in Alberta. The report estimates Alberta’s grizzly population at 691 (not including parts of Banff and Jasper parks), of which 358 are likely breeding individuals. The report notes that “Human activities in bear habitat, particularly the expanding network of roads, lead to unsustainable levels of bear mortality,” and suggests that “An examination of known mortality… suggest(s) that some local populations with a high level of habitat alteration are declining.”

    One of the 6 grizzly population units, the Grande Cache area, has relatively healthy numbers. This is the area with the largest amount of protected land. But “A large area of grizzly bear habitat, particularly south of Highway 16, currently appears to be a population sink, but could support a self-sustaining if human-caused mortality was reduced.” The report is clear on the solution: “To reduce mortality, motorized access to bear habitat must be minimized and human activities that lead to conflicts with bears must be mitigated.”

    On March 12, Government of Alberta announces that the spring grizzly bear hunt will be suspended for 2010.


    Results of the fifth and final year of the government’s detailed DNA study of grizzly bear numbers is published. The study was ended with some parts of the province – the Swan Hills area, and northwestern Alberta – still unstudied. The population estimate for those areas surveyed is 581 individuals. Bear researcher Dr. Steve Herrero estimates a provincial population of no more than 700. This compares to the 2002 estimate of 1,000 bears, which triggered the first scientific recommendations to list the grizzly as a threatened species.

    The Alberta government postpones its decision on whether or not to reinstate the grizzly hunt. It will wait until finalization of an upcoming Status Report, being prepared by an anonymous independent scientist. This report will then be reviewed by the provincial Endangered Species Conservation Committee (ESCC), which will again recommend whether the grizzly should be listed as a threatened species. (ESCC made this recommendation back in 2002, but it has been ignored by the Alberta government ever since).

    In a Calgary Herald poll, September 23, 78% of respondents agree that “grizzly bears should be designated an endangered species in Alberta.” The Herald’s editorial board is also clear that grizzlies should be designated a threatened species: “Today we have far more people, roads and development that interferes with grizzly habitat. The province says its goal is “to ensure grizzly bear populations are maintained in Alberta indefinitely.” Yet, judging from the numbers, if things continue as is, Alberta grizzlies will exist in memory only… Sustainable Resource Development Minister must step in and declare the grizzlies a threatened species, saving this powerful national symbol from extinction.”


    In October, results for 2007 grizzly DNA population study are released, estimating 51 grizzlies south of Highway 3. Grizzly biologist Gord Stenhouse is quoted in the Calgary Herald: “With about 65 per cent of the province’s grizzly bear habitat surveyed over four years, […] there have been 230 grizzlies counted.”

    Alberta’s scant grizzly bear population could grow by up to five per cent a year if fewer logging roads are built in the animals’ habitat, according to University of Alberta scientists Scott Nielsen and Mark Boyce. A study, published recently in the journal Biological Conservation showed that, regardless of any ecologically friendly harvesting practices adopted by industry, if road density is not reduced in logging areas, the grizzly population may continue to decline. With controlled access to logging areas, Boyce estimated that the province’s beleaguered bear population could increase by up to five per cent a year, based on a similar situation in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

    In June, Grizzly Bear Recovery Team is dismissed, in a letter from the Assistant Deputy Minister: “With the finalization of the plan, the work of the Recovery Team is complete.” The Team is somewhat surprised by this dismissal, as the Recovery Plan had made it clear that their work should be ongoing: “The Team assists the Minister and the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division (FWD) with Plan implementation… The Plan is a dynamic document. The initial life span of the Plan is five years, during which the Team will meet at least annually to review and update the Plan as required.”

    In April, Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan finally approved. Although language in the plan points to the need for habitat protection, nothing has yet been done to protect grizzly bear habitat. The focus is on mapping and counting bears, but nothing to address habitat disturbance. The plan is clear on the causes of the perilous plight of the province’s grizzlies: “human use of access (specifically, motorized vehicle routes) is one of the primary threats to grizzly bear persistence.”

    The grizzly remains undesignated as a threatened species, as recommended by government scientists in 2002, when the population was believed to be 1000 bears.

    In March, the grizzly bear hunt is suspended for another year.


    In June, the results of the 2006 grizzly population study, year 3 of a 5-year study, are released in June 2007. They make for gloomy reading. Although an overall population figure for the province is avoided, calculations from the 3 years of survey work, plus older population numbers, lead to a figure of less than 500 grizzlies in Alberta. In 2002, when the population was believed to be 1000 bears, government scientists recommended that the grizzly be designated as a threatened species. The situation is now known to be considerably worse than previously believed, but still the grizzly is not designated.

    After several years of lobbying, Canadian Pacific Railways announces a new program to repair and replace hopper cars on trains running through the national parks. Between 2001 and 2006, four grizzly bears were killed by trains, and a further five orphaned cubs removed from the wild, after feeding on spilled grain on railway lines.


    On March 3, Alberta government announces three year suspension of the spring grizzly bear hunt. Decision is in no small part due to outpouring of opposition from Alberta public, and considerable media coverage. AWA congratulates Minister of Sustainable Resource Development on this decision, but stresses that habitat loss is the number one issues affecting Alberta’s grizzlies, and no recovery will be possible until this is addressed. In a subsequent Calgary Herald on-line poll, 85% of readers agree with the hunt suspension.

    After two years, the draft provincial recovery plan is still not finalized or implemented.

    The long-awaited grizzly bear population results from 2004 and 2005 are finally released and paint a sobering picture. Figures for 2005 are difficult to compare to the previous studies because they cover different areas, but the 2004 figures are much clearer. In 2003 there were an estimated 147 bears in the area between highways 11 and 16. The more accurate 2004 figures put this number at 53 (or 36% of the 2003 estimate). DNA study for 2006 covers the area between Highways 1 and 3; results to be publicized early 2007.

    Gord Stenhouse, Chair of the provincial Grizzly Bear Recovery Team, speaks out publicly in January about the withholding of information from the Team and the delay in implementing its draft recovery plan (submitted in December 2004). Stenhouse is promptly demoted as Provincial Grizzly Bear Specialist though, bizarrely, there is an initial attempt by Sustainable Resource Development to deny that he held this position in the first place.


    On March 3, A group of 19 high profile scientists send a letter to the Premier, recommending that the government should endorse the recommendations of its own Endangered Species Conservation Committee and designate the grizzly as “threatened.” “The rate of industrial expansion in grizzly bear habitat is accelerating so rapidly that scientists cannot keep pace in predicting how these activities influence the survival of Alberta’s grizzly bears. At best, we are left with monitoring the species’ demise,” says Dr. Paul Paquet, director of the Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project.

    In February, Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project report is released. Highlights from this report include:

    •  A 10 year study of grizzlies in Bow River watershed,
    • The lowest productivity of grizzlies recorded anywhere in North America,
    • On average, females have first surviving litter at age 8.4; average litter size is 1.84 cubs; and average interval between litters is 4.4 years. This means that adult mortality levels are crucial, and
    • Mortality levels for 1994-2002 probably allowed for a small increase in population, but mortalities in 2003 and 2004 were much higher.

    These figures “demonstrate the importance of continued monitoring for a population like this, where slight changes in bear or human behavior that influence grizzly bear mortality can tilt a population trend from positive to negative.”

    Recovery Plan
    There is no sign that the draft Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, submitted to the government in December 2004, is being adopted. Some peer review of draft plan is undertaken, and the plan is reviewed by the Endangered Species Conservation Committee, although this does not include results of up-to-date genetic studies. Although the Terms of Reference for the recovery team state the “Final report will be provided to the Minister three months prior to release for public review,” there do not seem to be any plans for a “public review.”

    The Director of Fish and Wildlife asks the Recovery Team to provide “greater clarity” on its principal recommendations (including suspending the spring hunt and reducing road densities) and it is suggested that the recommendations be reconsidered. The Recovery Team replies that its recommendations are clear, and that the plan does not need changes.

    Recovery plan is reviewed by Drs. Chris Servheen and Charles Schwartz, two scientists involved with the successful Yellowstone grizzly recovery process. They are not, however, shown the most recent population study results. Dr. Servheen later says “In Alberta you have got the biological data and the organization to implement conservation. The weak point is the political will.”

    Spring Hunt
    The Minister for Sustainable Resource Development ignores the recommendation of recovery team to suspend the spring grizzly bear hunt, and announces that 73 licences will be issued this spring. A ministerial news release refers to a “conservative approach” to the hunt, and officials cite “anecdotal evidence” that the grizzly population is healthy enough to support a hunt.

    There is strong opposition to the hunt from environmental groups, Alberta public, scientists and opposition politicians. 10 bears are killed in the spring hunt.
    Scientific Studies

    The second year of the DNA population study looks at grizzly population between Highways 11 and 16. Still no results are released publicly. According to an SRD spokesman, the results are being withheld because the Alberta public “won’t understand them.”

    PhD study by S.E. Nielsen – Habitat ecology, conservation, and projected population viability of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos L.) in west-central Alberta, Canada:

    • Current logging practices in the Foothills Model Forest near Hinton would eliminate grizzly bears from all of the study area outside of Jasper National Park,
    • The increased number of roads necessary to log the area would result in so many dead bears that the population would likely disappear within 50 years, and
    • Additional roads are also built to build and operate oil and gas wells in the area.


    In December, the Provincial Grizzly Bear Recovery Team send the draft Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan to Minister of SRD. Plan will undergo a lengthy period of discussion before approval by the Minister.

    The draft plan is weak in addressing the need for habitat protection, though it does recommend the suspension of the spring grizzly bear hunt, and establishment of ‘Grizzly Conservation Areas’, where management will be more favourable to grizzlies.

    Three Alberta grizzly bear scientists concur that population on provincial land is ‘less than 700 bears’. Alberta government ignores precautionary principle, and recommendations of its own scientists, and decides to continue with the spring grizzly hunt. 1300+ letters and emails sent to the Premier to protest the hunt.
    Alberta government website provides reasons for continuing to provide grizzly hunting opportunity including:

    • “Hunting helps reduce problem bears by selecting those that are least wary and most likely to become nuisances,
    • The population growth rate is potentially increased by harvest of adult males that kill and eat young grizzlies,
    • “We believe hunted populations are more wary of people and therefore more likely to avoid undesirable interactions with humans.

    There is no known scientific justification for any of these assertions.

    The spring grizzly hunt issues 73 hunting licences, however, the hunt suspended in southern Alberta. Six bears killed in total for the season.

    The first year of new DNA population study looks at grizzly population between Highways 1 and 11. Four Alberta grizzly bear scientists concur that population on provincial land is ‘less than 700 bears’. Alberta government ignores precautionary principle, and recommendations of its own scientists, and decides to continue with the spring grizzly hunt. 1300+ letters and emails sent to the Premier to protest the hunt.

    73 hunting licences are issued for Alberta’s spring hunt.


    Gord Stenhouse is removed as Chair of the Grizzly Bear Recovery Team after suggesting to CBC TV that road densities in Alberta need to be reduced if grizzly bears are to remain on the landscape.
    Report on Alberta Grizzly Bear Assessment of Allocation (Alberta SRD) suggests most recent population estimate of 968 bears on provincial land not ‘biologically possible’ due to incorrect mathematical formulae (see 1990). Estimates population of 500 grizzlies on provincial land (a further 175 estimated in Alberta’s National Parks).

    101 hunting licences are issued for the season, with a total of 18 bears being killed.

    Known grizzly bear mortality in 2003 totals 45.


    In the fall, the Alberta Government’s Endangered Species Subcommittee recommends the grizzly should be designated a ‘Threatened’ Species’. For the first time, the government has refused to act upon this recommendation.

    Grizzly Bear Recovery Team (GBRT) set up by the Minister for Sustainable Development. For ‘threatened’ species, recovery teams usually have two years to draw up a recovery plan. GBRT is given one year.

    Government’s Endangered Species Conservation Committee (ESCC) recommends that the grizzly be designated a ‘threatened’ species. Rationale for recommendation includes:

    • Very small population size (fewer than 1000), and
    • Dispersal and exchange with adjacent populations being limited.

    Although the Committee notes that ‘there is no evidence that Grizzly Bear populations in Alberta are declining at present,’ it adds ‘it is likely that current and future land-use and human activity will result in declines.’

    For the first time, the government refuses to act upon the ESCC’s recommendation.

    Grizzly Bear Recovery Team (GBRT) set up by the Minister for Sustainable Development, This is a multi-stakeholder team made up of representatives from Ministries of Sustainable Resource Development (5 representatives) and Energy; Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Forest Products Association, Western Stockgrowers Association, Fish and Game Association, Universities of Calgary and Alberta, Parks Canada and Federation of Alberta Naturalists. One non-voting member represents AWA, Canadian parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Grizzly Bear Alliance and Y2Y.

    The Bear Necessities: A Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy for Banff National Park is produced by Bow Valley Grizzly Bear Alliance. Strategy recommends:

    • We must reduce mortality of grizzlies in the Park. 5.8% human-caused mortality is unsustainably high,
    • Bears must have access to secure and safe habitat,
    • Habitat must remain connected, both within the Park, and with outside populations.

    A total of 130 licences are issued for the grizzly bear hunt, with a total of 15 bears being killed.


    Report by B. Benn – Grizzly Bear Mortality in the Central Rockies Ecosystem, Canada – states that 89% of human-caused mortalities (n=172) were within 500m of a road on provincial lands, and 100% of mortalities (n=95) were within 200m of a trail in National Parks.


    Report by Steven Pimm – A Pragmatic Approach to Grizzly Bear Conservation – highlights the need for new thinking in grizzly bear management. “Neither maintaining the status quo in grizzly bear conservation nor relying solely on major reform is a reliable strategy. Instead, concerned people should take a pragmatic approach to developing innovative processes for forming reason-based public opinions that in turn inform effective public policies.”

    Between 1972-1996, a total of 838 human-caused grizzly bear deaths are recorded.


    Report by Mike Gibeau – Grizzly Bear Habitat Effectiveness Model for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks – questions the established thinking that National Parks form an effective core of habitat for grizzly bears. ‘Much of the three National Parks is only moderately productive habitat, excluding human influences. Adding the effects of humans, the modelled availability of the landscape to support bears is significantly reduced. The model suggests widespread habitat alienation in what is supposed to be core refugia for grizzly bears, questioning the ability of the landscape to support a viable population.’


    Provincial Management Plan for Grizzly Bears in Alberta produced, with an estimated population of 790 bears.

    Province divided into 21 Bear Management Areas (BMA’s). Baseline population estimates established for each BMA. Subsequent population estimates used these baseline figures, with mathematical formulae to calculate changes each year, based on known mortality, cub production etc. Management goals include:

    • The provincial grizzly bear population will be increased to 1000,
    • Commencing in 1989, grizzly bears will be hunted on a limited-entry draw. Harvest will be restricted to 2% of BMA grizzly populations to allow population growth. Once population goals are attained, harvest rate will be 4%. Maximum man-caused mortality will not exceed 6% in a specific BMA,
    • The survival of the grizzly bear in Alberta primarily depends on preservation and management of habitat, and
    • Guidelines to maintain quality wildlife habitat generally involve restrictions on the type and level of use and controls on public access to the site.


    Alberta’s Wildlife Act empowers the Alberta Endangered Species Conservation Committee to “identify species that may be formally designated as endangered or threatened under the Alberta Wildlife Act“.


    Between 1979-1984, 1050 grizzly bear licenses are issued, with an average of 42 bears being killed each year.


    The Alberta Government produces a Fish and Wildlife Policy. Some key points are:
    • The primary consideration of the Government is to ensure that wildlife populations are protected from severe decline and that viable populations are maintained.
    • The wildlife resource, as a Crown resource, will be utilized in a manner which contributes the most benefit to the citizens of Alberta.


    Between 1978-1980, 850 grizzly hunting licenses are issued. An average of 25 bears are killed per year.

    1971 – 1973

    Between 1971-1973, 200 grizzly hunting licenses are issued. The average numbers of 12 bears are killed per year.


    The fall hunt is eliminated within the province, and compulsory registration of grizzly kills is initiated.


    Grizzly population is declining due to inadequate regulation of hunting, and indiscriminate anti-rabies poisoning.


    Grizzly bears are classified as ‘Big Game’ in Alberta.


    Isaac Cowie from the Hudson Bay Company takes 750 grizzly skins from the Cypress Hills area in one year.


    The grizzly population is estimated at 6000 – 9000.

    April 1, 2009

    Alberta’s Grizzlies. Who Will Bear the Blame?

    Wild Lands Advocate article, April 2009. Nigel Douglas 20090400_ar_wla_grizzlies_douglas.pdf

    Read more »

    February 2, 2009

    ENGO News Release: Too Many Dead Bears in 2008

    News release, February 2, 2009, by AWA, Sierra Club Canada, Defenders of Wildlife, Federation of…

    Read more »

    February 1, 2009

    Kananaskis Grizzlies. When Enough is Enough

    Wild Lands Advocate article, February 2009. Nigel Douglas 20090200_ar_wla_grizzlies_ndouglas.pdf

    Read more »

    October 3, 2008

    AWA letter to Premier on Grizzly Recovery

    AWA letter to Premier on Grizzly Recovery 20081003_lt_awa_to_premier_grizzly_recovery.pdf

    Read more »

    October 1, 2008

    Save the Alberta Grizzly

    A video by Jonathon Sheffield, Youth Animation Project, with the support of Alberta Wilderness Association

    Read more »

    September 24, 2008

    Map: Grizzly Core Areas

    Draft Government of Alberta map of Core and Secondary Grizzly Bear Conservation Boundaries 20080924_draft_map_grizzly_core_areas.pdf

    Read more »

    August 1, 2008

    Grizzly Recovery Team Disbanded before Grizzly Recovery Begins

    Wild Lands Advocate article, August 2008. Nigel Douglas 20080800_ar_wla_grizzly_recovery_team.pdf

    Read more »

    June 19, 2008

    AWA News Release: Grizzly recovery in Alberta: Was That It?

    AWA News Release, June 19, 2008. 20080619_nr_awa_grizzly_recovery.pdf

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    June 1, 2008

    Grizzly Bear Update

    Wild Lands Advocate article, June 2008, by Nigel Douglas. 20080600_ar_wla_grizzly_update.pdf

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    March 31, 2008

    Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan

    Report: final version of Alberta’s Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. 20080331_rp_grizzly_recovery_plan_final.pdf

    Read more »

    March 31, 2008

    Report: Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery plan 2008-2013

    Read Alberta Species at Risk Recovery Plan No. 15, Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan 2008-2013.

    Read more »

    February 1, 2008

    Use Patterns by Female Grizzly Bears in the Central Rockies Ecosystem

    Wild Lands Advocate article, February 2008, by Tony Viveiros. 20080200_ar_wla_grizzly_study_tviveiros.pdf

    Read more »

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