The brown bear (Urus arctoss) is also referred to as a grizzly bear. Chamberlain, Rutherford, and Gibeau (2012) allege that the animal is among the largest carnivores living nowadays. The Grizzly bear is “one of the symbols of Canada’s remaining wilderness” (Chamberlain et al., 2012, p. 424). The animal takes long to multiply, thus requiring protection. Habitat changes and human activities pose a significant threat to the bear. Canadians appreciate the significance of grizzlies to the country. The animal has social and cultural importance to the state, which underlines the reason Canadians advocate its conservation.
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Currently, the population of brown bears in Canada is relatively stable. There are approximately 26,000 brown bears in the country. Research indicates that many subpopulations of brown bears in the country face extinction. In southwestern Canada, the bears are at a high risk of extermination, thus requiring safeguarding. The Canadian government has designated the brown bears as blue-listed (vulnerable) and increased conservation efforts to protect the species. A majority of people, particularly from the first nations regard brown bears as magnificent animals worthy of dread and admiration. Moreover, many people consider them to have ritual significance. The global population acknowledges that grizzlies are under threat and require protection. This article will discuss the threats that grizzly bears face and the social implications of conservation of the carnivores.
Numerous factors pose a significant threat to the survival of brown bears in Canada. They include habitat loss, encroachment, human activities like illegal hunting, and infrastructural development (Laberee, Nelson, Stewart, & McKay, 2014). A small number of brown bears die due to natural causes. Humans kill most grizzly bears. The studies indicate that at least 85% of the deaths are caused by human activities or people directly. Conservationists cite encroachment and habitat loss as the primary threats to the animals. Encroachment may include the establishment of railway lines in areas that are designated as habitat for brown bears.
The rail lines contribute to increasing human-bear encounters, with a certain yearning of humans to reduce the population of grizzlies. As per Laberee et al., (2014), “one big problem that affects brown bear is the spillage from railroad cars carrying cargos of grain through mountainous habitats” (p. 82). The brown bears scavenge along the railway lines, and many times, the trains knock them down, killing some and crippling others. Cases of brown bears being hit by trains are common in Canada, and this contributes to their declining. Conservationists advocate the use of secure methods of transporting grains to minimize spillage.
Numerous roads penetrate into areas designated as habitats for brown bears and other wildlife. The vehicles that ply these roads pose an immense threat to bears. Mace et al. (2012) posit that the noise from transient vehicles disturbs the animals, making it difficult for them to interact freely and breed. The animals tend to move away from roads, thus being displaced from quality habitations and depriving them of the chance to access essential resource requirements. Mace et al. (2012) argue that an increase in the number of roads leads to a decrease in the population of female brown bears. According to Northrup et al. (2012), many ranchers consider brown bears as a threat to their animals. Thus, they compel the government to reduce its population to safeguard livestock. At times, the farmers kill grizzly bears that they consider as problematic.
Human activities like timber logging and deforestation are major threats to grizzly bears. Northrup et al. (2012) maintain that deforestation contributes to a decrease in the population of salmons, which serve as essential food for grizzly bears. In return, it results in a reduction in the population of brown bears because they cannot breed. On the other hand, the branches and barks of trees left after timber harvesting cause fire that destroys the habitat for grizzlies. According to Stewart, Nelson, Wulder, Nielsen, and Stenhouse (2012), “the fire exposes mineral soils to the benefit of invasive non-native plant species that can overwhelm native species, including berry producers, which are necessary to bear survival” (p. 618). A reduction in the number of tree species that serve as food for grizzlies impacts their reproduction, therefore resulting in a decrease in population.
Poaching is one of the human activities that contribute to a high number of grizzly bear mortality, particularly during the hunting spell. Research conducted in southern British Columbia and western Alberta shows that “unreported kills account for 34 to 51 percent of all mortalities, which means that human-caused grizzly bear mortality may be twice as high as those that are documented in government reporting systems” (Stewart et al., 2012, p. 622). Expansion of recreational, residential, and industrial development affects grizzlies’ population and their habitat. At times, the development leads to the death of bears. Hydrocarbon extraction and mining are significant threats to the conservation of brown bears. Recently, there has been an increase in mining activities in northwest British Columbia. The activities have exerted immense pressure on the habitats of grizzly bears. According to a study by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), infrastructural development poses a threat to grizzlies. For instance, the construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline will interfere with the natural habitat for the animals, thus affecting their population.
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Published Research Findings
Research released by COSWEC in 2012 indicated that the subpopulations of brown bears in some areas of Canada were in a great snag (Proctor et al., 2012). The report claimed that the total population of grizzly bears in the country was about 26,000. However, the researchers admitted that the population could be lower than that as they relied on inaccurate models. Proctor et al. (2012) aver that it is difficult to estimate the total population of grizzly bears as they keep on migrating while others hibernate. The report concluded that the population of grizzly bears did not change significantly between 2002 and 2012 (Proctor et al., 2012). It claimed that the Canadian government had done little to protect grizzlies from extinction. The fragmentation and contraction of the species in southern Canada continued to deteriorate. In 2012, there were over 16 “population isolates” in Alberta and British Columbia (Proctor et al., 2012). The report warned against possible extinction of the isolated populations if the government and society did not alter land-use management priorities and implement recovery strategies.
The findings served as an eye-opener on the conservation status of grizzly bears in Canada. The British Columbian government has subdivided the province into many Grizzly Bear Population Units (GBPUs). The units are aimed at facilitating the conservation of the species and allowing their reproduction. The report showed that the government had done little to realize the objectives of GBPUs. The population of the bears in the designated conservation units remains low. The animals continue to face a risk of long-term decline despite the preservation measures. The number of human-caused mortalities remains high in Alberta and British Columbia.
The report by COSWEC made it clear that the conservation measures did not address the challenges associated with isolation and fragmentation of grizzly bears. The report stated, “The fragmentation and isolation of grizzly bears continue in southern Canada, and the historical pattern of grizzly bear extirpation seen in Europe and the contiguous United States continues (Ripple et al., 2014, p. 146). It showed that the Canadian government had not taken adequate steps to control human activities that pose a threat to grizzly bears. The findings revealed the poor level of conservation status in western Alberta and southern British Columbia. It showed that the degree of conservation of brown bears in these regions continued to decline, exposing the species to great danger.
Numerous factors contribute to the failure of conservation efforts. They include the lack of political will and stringent legal measures. The government does not dedicate its energy to the preservation of grizzlies. The states of Alberta and British Columbia have not enacted laws to protect endangered species. Moreover, the federal Species at Risk Act does not help to protect a majority of the species at risk across Canada. A study by Ecojustice confirmed the level of laxity in the protection of endangered species amid the government (Richie, Oppenheimer, & Clark, 2012).
The report called on the governments of Alberta and British Columbia to implement laws that prohibit encroachment of areas reserved for grizzly bears. The states require establishing areas that are exclusively meant for grizzly bear management and discouraging people from encroaching into the regions. Previously, the Canadian government set Grizzly Bear Management Areas (GBMAs) with the objective of protecting the animals and their environment from human encroachment (Richie et al., 2012). Unfortunately, it did not stick to the original spirit of the GBMAs. The government only discouraged trophy hunting, which contributed to declines in the population of grizzly bears. All other human and industrial activities continued in the GBMAs, posing a threat to the survival of grizzlies.
Even though brown bears can and do trigger disagreement and trepidation, a majority of the Canadians appreciate the significance of the animals to the country and society in general. They associate grizzlies with cultural values. Public attitude research conducted in Canada found that many people are pleased to see bears or realize that they survive (Linke, McDermid, Fortin, & Stenhouse, 2013). It underlines the reason many Canadians advocate the protection of the species. Many Canadians spend their holidays and recreational time visiting the conservation areas reserved for grizzlies. Therefore, the management of animals would boost the recreational experience of many citizens. Individuals would have an opportunity to visit and see the animals. Conservation of grizzlies would also have significant benefits to posterity (Linke et al., 2013). Today, people learn about dinosaurs from books. It would be unfortunate for future generations to learn about grizzly bears from books and documentaries due to negligence by the present generation. Conservation of grizzly bears would guarantee that posterity gets an opportunity to see the animals. Moreover, society would have a chance to continue with recreational activities like hunting in a controlled manner.
According to Cristescu, Stenhouse, and Boyce (2014), practical conservation of grizzlies would minimize animal-human conflict. Currently, the cases of bear attacks are common in Canada. Moreover, humans kill grizzly bears that they term as problematic. Ranchers support the reduction of the bear population because they see them as a threat to their animals. Establishing proper conservation measures would guarantee that people do not encroach into areas reserved for bears. On the other hand, grizzlies would not find their way into residential areas. It would result in peaceful coexistence between animals and people. Cristescu et al. (2014) allege that the move would lead to ranchers changing their attitude towards brown bears. Humans and grizzlies compete for food, particularly salmons, ungulates, and berries (Cristescu et al., 2014). Thus, ensuring peaceful coexistence between humans and bears would have social and environmental benefits. There would be a sufficient population of salmons for humans and bears’ consumption.
Northrup, Stenhouse, and Boyce (2012) argue that the conservation of brown bears would result in the reservation of land that could be used for human activities. People would not be allowed to build houses close to areas reserved for grizzlies. The move would stall development as people would not be allowed to engage in economic activities that might impact the animals negatively. Additionally, there would be a restriction of movement as no roads would be allowed to pass through areas meant for grizzlies. Human activities such as timber logging in the regions intended for the conservation of brown bears would be prohibited (Northrup et al., 2012). In return, it would impact the level of household income of many families that rely on the activity as their primary employment. Conservation of brown bears would also slow economic development in some regions. Currently, many mining explorations are happening in northwest British Columbia. Implementation of conservation measures would minimize the rate of research and stop some activities. It would have negative impacts on the growth of mining industries in the region.
Failure to protect brown bears would have many repercussions on society. A majority of people who prefer to visit national parks to see brown bears would have nowhere to spend their holidays. Moreover, recreational activities attributed to hunting brown bears would come to a stop. People would be compelled to look for alternative leisure activities. Obbard et al. (2014) allege that the extinction of brown bears would be a great loss to posterity. According to Obbard et al. (2014), “stories about bears encode specific information regarding their ecology and linkages to the ecosystem, hunting practices, and outcomes of human-bear encounters that can later be useful to listeners” (p. 106). It would be hard for people to pass knowledge to the subsequent generations. Moreover, children would only learn about the species from books. One may argue that the extinction of brown bears would give people an opportunity to harvest trees in areas previously reserved for the animals. However, it is imperative to note that uncontrolled harvesting of trees contributes to deforestation, which has adverse impacts on people. Moreover, the conservation of bears prevents a possible outbreak of wildfires that destroy forests and residential houses. Therefore, the loss of brown bears would increase the dangers of forest fires. Eventually, people would have nowhere to harvest timber.
The conservation outlook for brown bears in Canada is not promising. Lack of goodwill from the state governments has made it hard for conservationists to protect the endangered species. Moreover, federal and state laws are not effective in protecting animals. The government has done little to educate the public on the significance of preserving grizzlies. The British Columbian government established mechanisms to protect and help brown bears to multiply. Unfortunately, it did implement the policies. There is a need for state governments to initiate recovery plans meant to facilitate population augmentation. The lack of strong conservation policies continues to inhibit the protection of grizzly bears in southern British Columbia and western Alberta.
Therefore, there is a dire need for the state governments to enact conservation laws before grizzlies face extermination. Untenable levels of residential, industrial, and recreational development continue to inhibit the protection of brown bear breeding grounds. Additionally, they have contributed to the fragmentation of the bear population, making it difficult for the government to have accurate data on the number of carnivores. Even though public pressure has forced the Alberta government to designate brown bears as vulnerable, it has not taken measures to protect the animals. The recovery plan that was implemented is weak and cannot help to protect grizzlies. Forestry, industrial, and mining activities continue to degrade areas reserved for the conservation of grizzly bears. Moreover, human-caused brown bear deaths are untenably high. Grizzlies will face extinction in the coming years unless the state and federal governments take a proactive role in their conservation.
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