In our latest Practitioner’s Perspective, Towards grizzly bear population recovery in a modern landscape, Sean Coogan explains how new, multi-disciplinary approaches are being used to protect Canada’s threatened grizzly bears.

The management and conservation of large carnivores can be socially controversial and politically charged. To make matters more complicated, the data required to make effective scientifically-informed management decisions may be lacking, or extremely difficult to acquire. In North America, the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), is a good example of such a species. In our Practitioner’s Perspective, Towards grizzly bear population recovery in a modern landscape, we discuss how our multidisciplinary team of researchers are working together to recover the provincially threatened population of grizzlies in Alberta, Canada.

Bear w. collar
Data from GPS collars is used to understand many aspects of bear behaviour, including factors related to habitat use, hibernation, and human-conflict including mortalities. [Photo: Mark Bradley]

The province of Alberta first declared a moratorium on all grizzly bear hunting in 2006. Eventually, the grizzly bear was declared a provincially threatened species in 2010, due to a small population size, declining habitat, and high levels of human-caused mortalities. Since then, a multidisciplinary approach to recovering the population has been the focus of an ongoing grizzly bear research programme in the province, involving researchers from such diverse disciplines as molecular biology, nutritional ecology, remote sensing, and veterinary science, to name a few.

As an example, remote sensing technology is playing a critical role in understanding biology of grizzlies in the province, by monitoring their environment, movement, food resources and habitat at a range of spatial and temporal scales. A recent advance is the use of remote sensing technology to monitor snow conditions in grizzly bear habitat. Spring snow conditions are important factors for bears in the spring, autumn, and hibernation period. Snow monitoring is helping researchers to understand important ecological factors, such as the timing of landscape green-up, the availability of foods resources, and the dynamics of the hibernation period.

Hair snag collection
DNA in hair collected from barbed wire snags is used to monitor population trends across the province of Alberta, Canada. [Photo: fRI Research]

So far the programme has shown some early signs of success, as the number of grizzly bears have increased in certain parts of the province. Key to understanding such population trends has been the implementation of a comprehensive and non-invasive DNA hair-snag programme in grizzly habitat throughout the province. Work is ongoing, however, as biologically-informed population recovery targets are being developed based on the grizzly bear’s nutritional ecology. That is, physiological, behavioural, and environmental relationships between grizzlies and their nutritional resources are being used to determine how many bears the province can support now, and into the future.

The full Practitioner’s Perspective, Towards grizzly bear population recovery in a modern landscape, is free to read in Journal of Applied Ecology.

If you are a practitioner interested in sharing your work via our blog, please contact us. More information about Practitioner’s Perspectives in Journal of Applied Ecology is available here.