Alberta Suspends Its Spring Grizzly Bear Hunt

Suspended into 2009 while awaiting survey results

Alberta's Sustainable Resource Development, Bear Hunting Magazine

Alberta will continue to suspend its controversial spring grizzly bear hunt into 2009 amid concerns numbers are lower than earlier estimates.

But Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton will not order a status review of the grizzly - which could see the bear listed as a threatened or endangered species - until a five-year official count is completed next year.
"We'll keep the moratorium in place until we get the numbers in," Morton said.

An average of 14 grizzlies were taken yearly until the province halted the hunt for an initial three-year period in 2006 in order to get a handle on how many of the bears still prowled its forests.

Not only is 2008 the last scheduled year of the hunting ban, it is also the final year of a half-decade-long scientific survey that uses DNA from hair samples to count the province's bears in five different geographical regions. And until the entire count is completed, Morton said he would not change the way Alberta classifies bears.

"I think the responsible approach is to wait for the research to establish the approximate grizzly bear population before implementing new policy," said Morton.

Before the survey, it was generally believed that Alberta had somewhere between 700 and 1,000 grizzlies. Gord Stenhouse, chairman of Alberta's grizzly bear recovery team and head of the DNA census, speculated that only about 500 grizzlies remain in the province "and maybe less."

But Stenhouse also said that ecosystems like Yellowstone National Park in the northwestern United States has proven that bear populations can recover "with the appropriate help." The minister also suggests that "some progress" has been made in reducing the known human-caused grizzly mortalities in Alberta from 35 in 2003 to just nine last year.

Louisa Willcox, director of the U.S.-based National Resources Defense Council's wild bears project, said the need is "critical" for Alberta to implement a grizzly recovery plan. "I think in Alberta we know enough to know that there's a real dire situation with the potential of a declining population and pretty low numbers in a highly fragmented ecosystem."

Willcox said a yearly grizzly bear hunt easily becomes a "red-herring issue" when the big-ticket items surrounding care habitat protection and road density limitations are not addressed.

Recent studies have also shown that Canadian grizzlies are slower to reproduce than other grizzlies because of the harsh habitat conditions, with bears not becoming sexually mature until around seven years of age.

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