"Bearing" down on people

University of Calgary researchers are trying to figure out why the bears in Kananaskis Country are disappearing.

The Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project hopes to research management of habitat between industry and wildlife.

"We are at the pointy end of an ongoing problem," said Environmental Design graduate Mike Jibeau. "This is a balance we must meet between human interest and the interest of the grizzly bears."

Jibeau argued much of the conflict involves where and how much space is allocated for the bears.

"There are two major factors needed in the management," said Jibeau. "First there is the whole notion that female grizzly bears need space for security. Second, grizzly bears need to have effective habitat, that is, habitat without a lot of influence from humans."

The project began in 1994 and has actively catalogued human-induced mortality and basic mortality rates for grizzly bears. The data will create a demographic within the Kananaskis, Banff and Bow River valley areas.

"We try to work within close quarters of the bears," said Jibeau. "We use radio telemetry to track the bears from an airplane. This way we can trace their movements through the parks without direct contact."

Jibeau said there is interest in the findings from outside sources.

"Already some of our findings have been used by local agencies for current management decisions," he said.

"We have a variety of organizations interested in our work," said Environmental Design graduate Jenn Theberge.

In addition to research, the project invests time in a committee comprised of students, government officials and local industry. Participants include Parks Canada, Alberta Environment, BP Amoco and the Canadian Pacific Railway.

"We get together three or four times a year," said Theberge. "We present some of our research to them about properly managing this environment. It allows everyone to get their concerns on the table."

Theberge cited that the project receives donations from the companies involved.

"These organizations provide donations to the project but the research is not influenced by those donations," she said. "The donations only allow us to focus more [on] interests of
all parties."

Theberge said reactions to the project have been positive.

"I’ve seen my colleagues get grilled by professors by this and other universities," said Theberge. "In the end they have favorable comments about how we have been applying science to the research questions."

The project is now entering its final stages.

"The project is starting to wind down in the next couple [of] years," said Jibeau. "Only a couple of us are doing field work and the others are in the process of writing their final theses."

No further research is planned following the project’s completion.

"I don’t rule out that the park service will monitor populations for a time," said Jibeau. "We just won’t be doing any intensive surveys like the last five years."

Interested students can find the published results at www.candianrockies.net/grizzly.

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