According to new research, the number of conflicts between humans and grizzly bears is on the rise in southwestern Alberta. From 1999 to 2014, these interactions have increased by more than 30 percent.
Andrea Morehouse, the scientist who conducted the research while completing her PhD at the University of Alberta, combed through 6,300 provincial government documents reporting human interactions with grizzlies, black bears, wolves and cougars. These interactions ranged from distant sightings to dangerous encounters.
Morehouse found that although the number of interactions with black bears, wolves and cougars did not change over the 15-year period, there was a dramatic increase with grizzlies. The number of contacts went from fewer than 50 to about 200.
“We started to see substantial increase in the incidents starting in 2006,” said Morehouse in an interview with the Canadian Press.
Morehouse speculates that one of the reasons for the increase is cancellation of the spring grizzly hunt in 2006. While previously a farmer or rancher could kill a grizzly they perceived as a threat, now they have to call and report the sighting.
On farms, many interactions occur around grain bins, which the bears like to break into and eat from. “Bears can peel off the doors of those grain bins. It’s like they’re opening a sardine can,” she says.
Morehouse also notes that the grizzly population is gradually increasing by around 3 percent each year, which could also contribute to the rise in conflicts.
Despite her findings, Morehouse says the people most affected by the rise are coming up with innovative ways to deal with the predators. In fact, early data from 2015 to 2016 shows that grizzly-human interactions are down for the first time this century.
“One of the really excited things about southwest Alberta is that there is an extremely proactive group of people down here that are working on these issues,” says Morehouse.