Grizzly bears are more disturbed by people than by roads, study finds

Published: January 19, 2018

Grizzly on a road in front of a car Photo by Susan Ball

Getting rid of roads through grizzly bear habitats would increase the bears’ numbers, a new study has found, but it’s not the roads themselves that cause harm — it’s the human presence that comes with them.

“There’s no doubt that roads themselves are probably not that bad for bears,” Clayton Lamb, one of the paper’s co-authors and a biologist at the University of Alberta, told the Canadian Press. However, since roads rarely go unused, their presence does tend to mean less bears. The study found that where there are more than 0.6 kilometres of roadway per square kilometre, bear numbers decline.

“Roads and the humans that travel on them do increase both the risk of bear mortality and the chance that a bear won’t use that habitat any more,” Lamb said.

But while Lamb noted that while bears avoid large areas around roads and that getting rid of roads completely is the best way to restore bear populations, keeping people off of resource roads — roads usually used for industrial purposes — also help boost bear numbers.

“Closing roads to the public restored bear density in some small areas where this was done,” Lamb said. “We would close those roads to the public and then we would elevate bears back up.”

Lamb said that if we want to help replenish grizzly numbers, one way would be to close old resource roads to the public, and tear out old, unused roads. Another suggestion was to build roads in areas that aren’t oft-used grizzly habitats.

The study’s results have already inspired some road closures on BC’s Monashee Mountains. Lamb says that if we close more rarely used roads and build new ones outside of grizzly habitats, we should be able to find a “happy medium” between industry and bear wellbeing.

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