Alberta to allow hunting of ‘problem’ grizzly bears, wildlife group raises concern

A controversial change to Alberta’s Wildlife Act is allowing for grizzly bears to be hunted, even though they are labelled a threatened species.

Now, a provincial wildlife group is calling foul — saying it will do more harm than good.

The amendment, passed through a ministerial order, allows for the hunting of grizzly bears who are either involved in a human conflict or found to be living in “areas of concern.”

Devon Earl, conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), says even though it may have been made with the goal of improving grizzly conservation, and preventing human-wildlife interactions, it could actually allow grizzlies to be hunted an unsustainable rates.

“It could apply to anywhere that bears and people are in the same place and people, of course, have been expanding into bear territory a lot over the past decades, so people are coming into contact with bears a lot,” she said.

Earl also believes this work should be the responsibility of experts.

“If there is a grizzly bear that is posing a threat to people then it should be dealt with by the appropriate wildlife officials that are trained to deal with these situations,” she said.

The Alberta government has released a statement on the changes, saying this it is not a “bear hunt,” but a measure to ensure the safety of humans and livestock.

They say there has been an increase in dangerous interactions with Grizzly Bears, involving humans and livestock as well as agricultural losses from elk foraging on crops.

“The loss of even one human life because of a grizzly bear attack is one too many,” says Todd Loewen, Minister of Forestry and Parks. “We are taking a proactive approach to help Albertans co-exist with wildlife through our new wildlife management program.”

The province says when a problem animal like a grizzly or elk is identified, members of the approved network of wildlife management responders will be able to respond quickly across all regions of Alberta.

The response could include tracking and euthanizing a problem animal, while still following all rules and regulations already in place.

Hunting grizzlies has been banned in Alberta since 2006, but Earl says as this is allowed once again, it could open the bears up to trophy hunting, even though there are only about 900 in the province as of 2021.

She fears this could be extremely harmful to Alberta’s grizzly population, especially since they reproduce so slowly.

Another concern, the AWA says, is the lack of public consultation leading up to the change.

“The hunt is such a controversial issue and it’s something that people care a lot about and would have wanted to have a say in,” Earl said. “These bears are so special to people and people care about having them on the landscape so they have a lot of value outside their value for hunters.”

Earl says rather than adopting the controversial policy, the province should hire regional large carnivore conflict biologists to deal with the issue, as recommended in the 2020 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan.

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