Wednesday, 20 January 2016 10:58

Finding a resolution in the conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock remains elusive (video, audio, photo)

Written by Michael Short
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Andrea Morehouse, a grizzly bear researcher, says livestock in south western Alberta are still being poached by bears Andrea Morehouse, a grizzly bear researcher, says livestock in south western Alberta are still being poached by bears Striking Balance Photography

It would appear an Alberta program to keep grizzly bears from killing calves along the eastern slopes in southwestern Alberta has not be very effective.

The province has operated the wildlife intercept-feeding program since 1998. It involves the collection of road kill animals like deer and elk, which are being dropped into remote locations in the mountains. The intent is to have the bears feed on these carcasses rather than move to lower elevations to prey on livestock or other domesticated animals.

Since 2011 Andrea Morehouse, a PhD Candidate with the University of Alberta, has been working with ranchers, community leaders and other biologists with the provincial government to determine the population and distribution of grizzly bears in the area. Part of her study has looked at the effectiveness of the intercept-feeding program. She explains how they went about evaluating the program.

Andrea Morehouse collects hair samples from a grizzly rubbing tree

Barbed wire is used on rubbing trees to collect hair from grizzlies. DNA is extracted from the hair samples to help researchers identify individual bears.

Audio Clip 1 Summary - If there is one thing we know, large dominant grizzly bears don’t like to share food. So, if the majority of large male bears are staying on the carcasses is it the younger male and female bears responsible for the attacks on livestock?

Audio Clip 2 Summary - Moving forward then, if the intercept-feeding program is not the answer, what is?

There's often some additional considerations - for example, many ranchers move calving grounds each year to avoid the spread of disease. Solutions need to work for the producer and are typically case specific. In general, electric fencing is a very powerful tool and has been used in a variety of situations. 

grizzly bear

While national parks play a role for grizzly bears, habitat is not often ideal. Bears will seek out better hunting grounds — this can include nearby ranch lands. – photo credit Michael Short

What is clear is that there are no easy answers to resolve the conflict between grizzlies and humans.

As the follow video story points out, perhaps the issue doesn’t rest with the bears, rather it's a people issue.

The fact we have dedicated researchers like Andrea Morehouse and others, as well as ranchers and landowners willing to better-understand grizzly behavior may one day lead us to the right solution.

What is the future of the Intercept feeding program?

We will have some new information coming forward soon.

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