Danger spots identified for threatened grizzly bear

05/25/04

A deadly combination of industry and human activity may soon wipe out Alberta's grizzly bear population, but new University of Alberta research identifies the province's highest mortality spots.

Scott Nielsen, from the Department of Biological Sciences, has isolated specific spots where the bears are dying at the highest rates, all sites where grizzly habitats overlap areas that humans frequent regularly. Nielsen's paper, published in the journal "Biological Conservation" is one of the first to map out these dangerous locations. Until now, research has concentrated on mapping habitat alone.

The biggest culprit, said Nielsen, is when industry--forestry, oil and gas, and mining--extract resources, since each activity develops a new network of roads to access this property. Grizzly bears already are low in number and have very low productive rates, so even when a small number of bears are killed, it can have significant consequences on the species. "Mortality rates in many sites are simply way too high to expect long-term persistence of grizzly bears," said Nielsen, the lead author on the paper. "Methods that identify mortality sites in most need of management or restoration are needed."

Over the past century, human encroachment has destroyed their existence in much of North America and Alberta isn't far behind that practice, said Nielsen. The bears existence is so serious that the province is considering labeling the grizzy's status as "threatened."

Nielsen's recommendations include limiting human access to highly quality habitat sites and increasing education programs that facilitate a greater understanding of grizzly bears in the province.

"Until poaching and translocation actions are reduced, the limited entry spring hunt--a controllable source of mortality--should be closed," he said.

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