Alberta grizzly killings jumped to 19 in 2008: Sierra Club

Humans were directly responsible for at least 19 grizzly bear deaths in Alberta last year, according to a conservation organization.

Humans were directly responsible for at least 19 grizzly bear deaths in Alberta last year, according to a conservation organization.

The Sierra Club of Canada says the bears were killed by people in various situations, including six in self-defence, six "problem bears" slain by conservation authorities, four in accidents, two in aboriginal subsistence harvesting and one poached illegally.

That compares with nine known human-caused deaths in 2007 and 12 in 2006.

Action Grizzly Bear, a campaign by the Sierra Club and several other conservation groups, is calling on the Alberta government to "take immediate action to reduce human-caused mortality in Alberta."

"This includes reducing road densities in bear habitat, developing effective conflict prevention programs and dedicating a budget necessary to implement these and other recovery strategies," the organization said in a release.

Steve Herrero, an expert on grizzly bears, said he believes there are fewer than 500 of the animals in Alberta.

"Any time you lose an adult female grizzly bear, it's a lot because they are the reproductive core of the population and the population is at low enough numbers that any loss of a female is a problem," he said.

Government prefers education

The Alberta government stopped issuing licences for grizzly bear hunting after 2005, when 10 bears were killed in legal hunts.

Herrero said he doesn't have anything against hunting but the government should limit the number of people hunting for other animals in known grizzly habitat.

"It's a matter of how many people with guns you have in grizzly bear habitat, ultimately," he said. "And roads are one of the main things that give people with guns access to grizzly bear habitat."

Darcy Whiteside, a spokesman with the province, said Alberta does not want to restrict access to the backcountry and would prefer to educate people about reducing interactions with the bears through awareness programs and the teaching of bear-aversion techniques.

"There are ways, of course, of reducing human-bear interactions without necessarily reducing access for people," he said.

Whiteside says the province is still doing research on the numbers of grizzlies, and at this point, it doesn't know whether the numbers are going up or down.