No picnics for these bears

The human race has one more reason to hang their head in shame.

During a presentation for the Alberta Wilderness Association on Tues., Oct. 16, Dr. Brian Horejsi discussed scientific findings that point to human development as the greatest hindrance to the re-population of grizzlies.

"These are animals that are declining in their ecosystems constantly," said Horejsi. "In Mexico and the United States, as an example, one can see that populations have been in decrease since the 1920s to a point where the last southern bear was killed by the Mexicans in the 1960s and only small clusters of bears are left in Idaho and Wyoming."

Horejsi compared the grizzly situation in Western Canada to that of the rest of North America. He emphasized that the Alberta government’s lax environmental policy in the Kananaskis area places bear and human interests at odds.

"We are at the advancing edge of this extinction front," said Horejsi. "Despite the Americans having an Endangered Species Act, a National Policy Act and an Administrative Procedures Act, they still have only a remnant population of 35 bears left in some areas. We lack these policies and have seen what is estimated at about 10,000 to 15,000 bears spread over all the province shrink down to approximately 400-650 today in a fraction of the original space."

Human interests such as highways, drilling, clear cutting, and new residential and commercial property were identified as major obstacles to bear procreation.

"Sub-adult bears will inevitably leave their home range when they get to be about three years of age," said Horejsi. "They’re trying to establish a place where they can have their own home range, essentially becoming their own adult male. These ranges are often already occupied by an adult male that is a physical threat, and thus, it is inevitable that the sub-adult males will strike out to where they might be safe. These are the bears that always astound us when they show up on the edge of Calgary or downtown Banff. As the studies show, 90 per cent of bear deaths occur within 2km of roads and human systems."

During a focus on failed initiatives by the Alberta government to preserve the grizzly population, Horejsi displayed slides of bears killed by trains, vehicles and illegal shootings.

To conclude his talk, Dr. Horejsi called on the public to influence governmental policy.

"We cannot recover grizzly populations without linking the efforts to science. We need people to say that ‘I am a member of this province and I am entitled to participate in any process, in any part of decision making.’ We need to oblige [the Alberta government] to use the best possible science," said Horejsi.

Students play an integral role in creating public pressure.

"I work frequently with post-secondary institutions," said Horejsi. "These issues should be taught in universities because the university level is where most people become activists. I know I did."

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