Alberta has designated grizzly bears as a threatened species in order to protect the animals. ((CBC))

The Alberta government has designated grizzly bears a threatened species in an effort to better protect the animals and maintain the overall provincial population.

The designation announced Thursday is based on population research and habitat data, as well as a recommendation from the Endangered Species Conservation Committee, which includes ranchers, academics, wildlife managers and conservationists.

The committee had already recommended that the bear be listed as threatened in 2002, but the government did not follow its recommendation and instead set about establishing a recovery plan, which took six years to complete and was finalized in March 2008.

As part of the process of drafting that plan, the province appointed a Grizzly Bear Recovery Team to collect data on the bear population and its habitat and to study ways to reduce human interactions with the bears and better manage their habitat.

The threatened species designation is based on a study of the size of the province's grizzly population, the rate at which it has declined, the extent of species distribution, how much area is occupied by the bears and the potential natural and human-related threats to the population.

The population and habitat information provides "an excellent snapshot of the status of grizzly bears in Alberta," Mel Knight, minister of sustainable resource development, said in a statement released Thursday.

"[The experts'] research allowed a thorough population assessment and has provided the necessary baseline to compare future work."

In the government's Grizzly Bear Status Report released in February 2010, it estimated there were 691 grizzly bears in the province, compared to 841 in 2000.

The report was prepared by Dr. Marco Festa-Bianchet, an expert on large mammals, and based on data collected using a DNA-based population survey technique common in B.C. and throughout the U.S.

The species conservation committee used the report when making its determination about the grizzly bear's status as threatened.

Festa-Bianchet said some local grizzly bear populations might be declining.

Cutting down on "human-caused mortality" such as vehicle collisions with bears and "motorized access to habitat" would help stabilize the number of grizzlies in Alberta, according to the report.