Hiking in the Yukon. Image: Pat Morrow
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"I BELIEVE in connected landscapes; so connected that my children can walk from one point to another."
Chris Bunting, Y2Y Supporter since 2007

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Roads: Alberta's "Grizzly" Issue

Ever wonder how Alberta’s grizzly bears feel about the results of Alberta's recent provincial election? After all, their survival depends on future policies.

Too many roads…

The issue is there are too many industrial roads in grizzly habitat. “Now that grizzly hunting is on hold, the primary causes of death for Alberta’s threatened grizzlies arise from too much contact between bears and people due to motorized access into their habitat,” explains Y2Y Program Director, Wendy Francis.

Roads are not limited to those accessible by 4-wheel drive trucks. They refer to any linear feature that offers motorized human access: trails, cut lines, pipeline rights-of-way and electricity transmission corridors.

According to two studies, the concentration of these roads, cut lines, pipelines, etc. in Alberta grizzly habitat exceed the recommended thresholds in the 2008 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan; in some areas up to two and three times the recommended threshold.

At these levels, an average person hiking cross-country would encounter a linear feature every hour or less.

Photo: Bennett Barthelemy

This reality makes it difficult for bears to avoid people and still get enough food to amass the huge weight gain they need to prepare for hibernation.

A Healthy Ecosystem Needs Grizzlies

Recovering Alberta’s grizzlies is about more than saving one species, it’s about protecting our land.

William Ripple, lead author of a new study conducted by Oregon State University (OSU) and an OSU professor of forestry, points out that large predators, like grizzlies, help maintain native plant communities by keeping in check the densities of grazers like deer, elk, moose and sheep.

"The preservation or recovery of large predators may represent an important conservation need for helping to maintain the resiliency of northern forest ecosystems," he concludes.

Y2Y Study Hopes to Bridge the Gap

The Alberta government has been slow to take real recovery action.

In our December edition of Connections, we reported that Y2Y and other grizzly allies are calling on the government to stop building new roads in grizzly habitat until the recommendations in the Grizzly Recovery Plan are enacted (read media release). Unfortunately our request fell on deaf ears.

“We’ve come to see,” says Y2Y Program Director Wendy Francis, “that the recovery plan points out what to do but it doesn’t suggest how to implement the recommendations.”

To bridge this gap, Y2Y has commissioned a study that will recommend improvements to the policies for creating, using, managing and recovering linear features in grizzly habitat.

“This study will help us start a dialogue with the Alberta government and industrial land users, as well as lay out a plan to that allows conservationists, government and land owners to work together to recover Alberta’s grizzlies,” concludes Wendy Francis.

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