Grizzly bears are an iconic but Threatened animal in Alberta under the provincial Wildlife Act (the Act), and thanks to a West Fraser-funded study, we understand more about the populations of this species. Although only gaining their official status of Threatened under the Act in 2010, grizzlies have been at the center of conservation efforts for decades. However, to know if we’re successful, we need to see if there’s an increase in the bear population. In the case of grizzly bears, that is a feat much easier said than done. It’s work-intensive to estimate the grizzly population, requiring well-coordinated timing, funding, and expertise. This is where collaborations between research groups and industry blossom.
One of West Fraser’s many research collaborations has recently yielded critical information for grizzly bear conservation. fRI Research is a non-profit corporation with a research team in western Canada, and the group has decades-long ties to grizzly bear research. Along with funding support from several stakeholders, such as West Fraser, the group has produced population estimates for two of the province’s Bear Management Areas (also known as BMAs). The recently released report gives valuable insight into the current status of grizzlies and how their population has changed over time.
The study took place in 2018 in BMAs 4 and 7 – overlapping with West Fraser’s Sundre FMA (BMA 4) as well as Slave Lake and Blue Ridge (BMA 7). Hair samples were collected from wire hair traps, and DNA analysis was used to identify individual bears. From there, fRI researchers used a formula to translate that information into a BMA-wide estimate of the population. Altogether, after analyzing the samples from the almost 400 wire traps, the results are looking good. The bear population has more than doubled in BMA 4, growing from 42 to 88 bears since 2015. In BMA 7, the grizzly bear population is estimated to be 62. It’s the first time that population has been evaluated but will provide a comparison for later studies.
“The new census for BMA 4 confirmed what we felt was already happening,” said Tom Daniels, the Woodlands Manager at our Sundre Division. “Our employees and contractors, along with the stakeholders we engage with, have been seeing more bears on the landscape than we ever had. It is also important to point out that during the 13 years between the two censuses, there were 46 grizzly bears removed from the area (translocated or mortalities), and yet there was still an increase. It would appear that grizzly bears are doing well, and we like to think that we have played an important and significant role in the increase of this population.”
What do these results mean for West Fraser? With three different Forest Management Areas (Slave Lake, Blue Ridge, and Sundre) located within these study BMAs alone, understanding the population and the effectiveness of conservation efforts is critical. As Senior Biologist for West Fraser Laura Trout said, “At West Fraser, we go above and beyond to manage the habitats of several species at risk – including grizzly bears. We minimize the line of sight from the road into new harvest areas to reduce the risk of mortality for grizzly bears and other critters that are vulnerable to human-caused mortality. We model the landscapes to create high-quality habitats with reduced mortality risk through forest harvesting. We give grizzly bears time and space during hibernation and denning by identifying high-denning potential areas and incorporating those areas into strategic forest management plans. Population studies like the one from fRI Research reinforce that these efforts of sustainable forestry practices, among numerous others, have an impact.”