(For a detailed discussion of how and why the ESGBP was initiated, you can refer to the published paper, “The Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project: Origins, organization and direction) on this web site.
(Please note that field work for the ESGBP is completed. There are no employment opportunities in this regard.)
- The Need
- Study Area
- Steering Committee
- The Research
- Major Policy and Management Actions
In and around Banff National Park (an area we call the Central Rockies Ecosystem, or CRE), grizzly bears exist in one of the most developed landscapes in North America where they still survive. In the CRE, there are about 1,000,000 people within a few hours drive of occupied grizzly bear habitat.
Across the 40,000 sq. km. of the Central Rockies Ecosystem, there is great pressure for resource extraction, recreation, transportation corridors, and resort and housing development. This intensive human use challenges the bear’s future and the future of its wildland home.
The challenges are particularly acute in this region. In the CRE, grizzly bears occur at low densities. Their home ranges are large. Females have relatively few young in their lifetimes. This combination of biological characteristics means that grizzly bears have little “demographic resilience” — the ability to maintain populations in the face of habitat loss and increased human-caused mortality. Careful management based on sound science is required to stem habitat loss and population decline.
The overall purpose of the ESGBP is to scientifically understand the cumulative effects of human developments and activities on grizzly bears in the CRE, and to apply this information as possible in management and conservation contexts.
The Central Rockies Ecosystem is in Canada, focused on the land between the Alberta foothills and British Columbia’s Columbia River Valley. Within Alberta, the northern boundary is approximately formed by the Saskatchewan River drainage and the latitude of Nordegg. The southern boundary is approximately formed by the Oldman River drainage and the latitude of Elkford, B.C. The total area is about 40,000 square kilometers. Within this larger area, grizzly bears have been trapped, radio-marked, and telemetry-monitored since 1994 focusing on the 22,000 km. sq. of the upper Bow River drainage of Alberta’s eastern slopes of the Rockies — hence, the Project’s name.
Grizzly bear home ranges spread across many different land management jurisdictions in the CRE. The ESGBP is guided by a Steering Committee made up of representatives from major CRE regional stakeholders. Included are the federal and provincial governments, conservation and recreation groups, and commercial interests such as resource extraction industries, and land developers. The Steering Committee sets the research directions for the ESGBP, and all representatives contribute time and/or money to the Project.
While the ESGBP does not have jurisdiction or management authority related to grizzly bears or their habitat, because we have representation from major stakeholders, we have had considerable influence in this regard. This unique set of relationships, combined with the association with the University of Calgary, is at the heart of the Project’s successes to date.
To achieve the ESGBP’s overall purpose, the Steering Committee pursues the following objectives:
- review and suggest strategic direction for research and encourage a research-based understanding of grizzly bear biology and ecology in the Central Rockies Ecosystem with focus on selected portions of the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta;
- help focus research efforts on the cumulative effects of regional land use and mortality factors on grizzly bears;
- provide a forum for various stakeholders to discuss land-use planning issues as they relate to grizzly bears;
- help secure funding and other forms of agency support;
- coordinate public outreach initiatives; and
- contribute to the conservation of grizzly bear populations and their habitat in the Central Rockies Ecosystem and especially the Eastern Slopes.
The basic tenet of the ESGBP is that for management decisions related to grizzly bears to be effective, they must be based on sound scientific research. Our research priorities are to determine demographic and habitat parameters, and to link these in a habitat and population viability model. In this way, we intend to identify landscape management conditions that will enhance grizzly bear (and other sensitive carnivore) persistence.
Research is carried out by students and staff at the University of Calgary. Our core of six Masters and Ph. D. students and their supervisor use data from the approximately 25 grizzly bears we radio-monitor each year, as well as other sources.
By placing the research under the guidance of an interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder group representing most stakeholder sectors in the CRE, we have created a relatively open forum linking grizzly bear needs with the needs and wants of human society.
Because the ESGBP represents a unique partnership between diverse stakeholders, including those having management jurisdiction regarding grizzly bears, we have had significant success in seeing the implications of our most important research findings translated into policy and management actions.
Significantly in response to our major report on the population and habitat status of grizzly bears presented to the Banff-Bow Valley Study Task Force, the following specific objectives were put into the 1997 Banff National Park Management Plan:
- “Restoring habitat, mitigating the impact of human activities and facilities, and reducing human-caused mortality will contribute to the on-going viability of sensitive species such as grizzly bear, wolf, wolverine and cougar (Parks Canada 1997: p.10).”
- “To maintain and restore secure habitat in the park and on surrounding lands for carnivores that are not habituated to humans (Parks Canada 1997: p.21).”
- “To reduce the number of grizzly bears killed as a result of human activity to less than 1% of the population annually (Parks Canada 1997: p.21).” (My comment…this means that on average less than one grizzly bear will be killed/removed from the entire park population each year.)
- “Adopt a human use management program that will restore secure habitat for carnivores and ensure the maintenance of viable populations of wary species such as grizzly bear, wolf, wolverine and cougar (Parks Canada 1997: p. 22).”
- “(Habitat effectiveness) targets have been established for each CMU (Carnivore Management Unit) based on the potential for improved habitat effectiveness and visitor experience considerations…(Parks Canada 1997: p.42).”
- “Human use management will be based on the desired effectiveness of each Carnivore Management Unit (CMU)…Recommendations for human use management will be based on research (Parks Canada 1997: p.43).”
- “The precautionary principle will apply when the potential consequences are uncertain (Parks Canada 1997: p.43).”
- “A special focus on securing effective habitat for grizzly bears, wolves and lynx -key indicator species- will serve to benefit about 98% of the other terrestrial wildlife and the park as well (Parks Canada 1997: p. 82).”
The foregoing policy direction is clear and reasonably quantitative. It has already significantly improved management of grizzly bear mortality and habitat.
We prepared a similar major report on the population and habitat status of grizzly bears in Kananaskis Country and submitted this as part of the recreational planning process for Kananaskis Country. The results of this planning process are not yet final.
Our results regarding the relationship between grizzly bear mortality and human use of transportation corridors (such as roads and high-use trails) have influenced some management decisions in the CRE.
To help mitigate the effects of two major resource extraction projects in the CRE we shared our data with developers and the public. This resulted in the Husky/Rigel Moose Mountain oil and gas development, and the Spray Lakes Sawmills McLean Creek projects, being more grizzly bear friendly than they would have been without our data.
Our multi-jurisdictional, multi-stakeholder project organization has served as a model influencing ongoing or potential organization of grizzly bear research and management in the Yellowhead region of Alberta, the Muskwa-Kechika region of north eastern BC, and the Kluane National Park region of the Yukon.