Griz­zly bear cubs can­not go back to the wild

Or­phans would have a hard time sur­viv­ing, Gor­don Sten­house says.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - Gor­don Sten­house of Al­berta En­vi­ron­ment and Parks has been sec­onded to FRI Re­search as griz­zly bear pro­gram leader and re­search sci­en­tist.

I write today to re­spond to an open let­ter (“Cal­gary Zoo cubs should be groomed for wilder­ness,” Cal­gary Her­ald, May 21) re­gard­ing three griz­zly bear cubs that Al­berta Fish and Wildlife of­fi­cers res­cued — and to clear up mis­in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the let­ter.

These griz­zly bear cubs are four months old and would not have sur­vived in the wild at this stage of their lives with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion. The bears were safely trans­ported to the Cal­gary Zoo, where they are re­ceiv­ing ap­pro­pri­ate care and will stay tem­po­rar­ily while zoo of­fi­cials make ar­range­ments to find them a more per­ma­nent home.

Due to safety con­cerns and a lack of post-re­lease mon­i­tor­ing, griz­zly bears reared in cap­tiv­ity are not re­leased back into the wild in Al­berta. Griz­zly bear cubs spend up to three sea­sons with their mother and dur­ing this time cubs learn about their en­vi­ron­ment, in­clud­ing what food is, where to find it and what the risks to their safety are. These risks can in­clude other bears and hu­mans.

Cubs raised in cap­tiv­ity dur­ing this crit­i­cal learn­ing pe­riod do not re­ceive this crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion that is im­por­tant for their sur­vival.

Sci­ence does not show that re­leas­ing griz­zly bear cubs back into the wild is the most hu­mane so­lu­tion. Cur­rent re­search does not pro­vide ad­e­quate ev­i­dence that cap­tive rear­ing and re­lease of griz­zly bear cubs is suc­cess­ful. Re­cent Al­berta re­search shows that even adult griz­zly bears moved into new or un­fa­mil­iar habi­tats show very dif­fer­ent move­ment rates and habi­tat se­lec­tion pat­terns than res­i­dent bears in the same land­scape. These dif­fer­ences in­crease the like­li­hood of en­coun­ter­ing hu­mans and get­ting into con­flict sit­u­a­tions. In­for­ma­tion is also lack­ing about the safety risks it can place on fa­cil­ity op­er­a­tors and vol­un­teers, the pub­lic and the bears them­selves.

The griz­zly bear cub rear­ing project at North­ern Lights Wildlife Shel­ter in B.C. is a pi­lot project at one fa­cil­ity in the prov­ince. Cur­rently, there is lit­tle sup­port­ing ev­i­dence that the pi­lot rear­ing project for or­phaned griz­zly bears has re­sulted in sur­vival past the first den­ning pe­riod. B.C.’S fa­cil­ity has limited space — and pri­or­ity for space is given to B.C. wildlife. An­i­mals from out­side the prov­ince are avoided, be­cause they can in­tro­duce new par­a­sites and in­fec­tious dis­eases, which puts other an­i­mals at risk.

To my knowl­edge, no other ju­ris­dic­tion in North Amer­ica al­lows cap­tive rear­ing and re­lease of griz­zly bears. (Mon­tana is cur­rently car­ing for three cubs that will not be re­leased back to the wild.)

I have the ut­most con­fi­dence the Cal­gary Zoo will find a suit­able home for the three griz­zly cubs. World­wide, over 700 mil­lion peo­ple visit zoos each year, where they learn about wildlife in a con­text that fa­cil­i­tates the devel­op­ment of care to­ward na­ture, con­ser­va­tion be­hav­iours and longterm con­nec­tions be­tween hu­mans and an­i­mals. In this case, I would also hope that vis­i­tors will learn more about the role of large car­ni­vores in the ecosys­tems we share with them.

Al­berta is not with­out a griz­zly re­cov­ery plan and the plan de­vel­oped in 2013 is still op­er­a­tional and guid­ing re­cov­ery ac­tions. These ac­tions con­tinue to fo­cus on re­duc­ing hu­man-caused mor­tal­ity rates, ac­cess man­age­ment plan­ning and gather­ing new data on pop­u­la­tion size in the seven pro­vin­cial bear man­age­ment units. We have seen im­por­tant (and im­pres­sive) pop­u­la­tion in­creases in some ar­eas of Al­berta. For ex­am­ple, BMA 3 (Yel­low­head) showed a dou­bling of the griz­zly bear pop­u­la­tion over a 10-year pe­riod be­tween 2004 and 2014. By the end of 2020, for the first time in our prov­ince’s history, we will have sci­ence-based pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mates for all pro­vin­cial bear man­age­ment units. No other ju­ris­dic­tion in North Amer­ica has un­der­taken, or achieved, griz­zly bear pop­u­la­tion in­ven­tory work at this scale.

En­vi­ron­ment and Parks is cre­at­ing an up­dated plan with the best avail­able data to ex­plain re­cov­ery achieve­ments to date and to guide the man­age­ment of this im­por­tant species in Al­berta us­ing the sci­ence that has been un­der­way in our prov­ince over the past 23 years.

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