If you think the last few grizzlies have been banished to remote mountain hideouts, think again.
“We don’t have a final number at this point, but what we can say right now is we identified over 100 grizzly bears,” said Andrea Morehouse, co-ordinator of the Southwest Alberta Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project.
And they’re increasingly found on the bald prairie, said Lyle Lester, a provincial Fish and Wildlife officer.
“I can tell you, in southwestern Alberta, we have a lot of grizzly bears,” he said.
The Prairies were actually the grizzlies’ natural habitat before humans pushed them into the mountains, and sows are again bringing their cubs onto the plains because it’s a safer environment for them, he said.
The latest survey, conducted last year, expands on one done in 2011, which was conducted only on public lands. Morehouse’s survey used 831 sites to collect DNA from hair samples left on barbed wire or objects such as tree trunks that bears like to rub against. Some may be visitors from Montana or B.C., but farmers in the area who have lost livestock or had their grain bins raided know the population numbers are rising, said Jeff Bectell, chairman of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association and co-ordinator of its Carnivore Working Group.
“It’s just been the last 15 or 20 years that we started to have bears around,” he said during a recent tour of the group’s carnivore mitigation projects.
To reduce bear damage, the group has set up a deadstock composting facility and promoting things such as electric fencing or new, sturdier and hopefully bear-proof grain bin doors.
“The solutions, we’re trying to find them but they’re not all easy cookie-cutter solutions,” Bectell said.