The province's grizzly bear monitoring project has shown there are more bears in southwestern Alberta than previously thought.

The program began three years ago when the province listed grizzly bears as a threatened species. The project was intended to monitor and track grizzly populations across southwest Alberta.

Researchers say there are now at least 122 grizzlies in the area south of Highway 3 near Pincher Creek.

"That's simply the number of individuals we detected through the hairs we collected," said Andrea Morehouse, co-ordinator of the province's grizzly tracking program. "That's the minimum number; it's not the population estimate."

The project has been collecting DNA samples from hair snags scattered in the area.

Findings support ranchers' experiences

For ranchers, the project's findings support what they've been saying for a while — there are more bears than recent estimates suggested.

While some would like to see the ban on grizzly hunting lifted, others say there could be room for a compromise.

"If we do things to try and prevent them becoming problem bears then we hope a higher number of bears can exist without as many problems," said Jeff Bechtel, a Cardston rancher.

One of the compromises Bechtel says he would like to see is increased support from the province for ranchers who want to bear-proof their properties.

Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, said she is confident that the hunt won't be re-established.

"While it may show that the population is healthier in Montana — and so bears are coming up from Montana — Alberta remains a mortality sink, especially southern Alberta, with all of its industry, all of its roads, all of its motorized access. So we don't think that's a good enough reason to reopen the debate about the hunt."

The grizzly monitoring project will continue at least one more year.

No policy decisions will be made on what to do about the increased bear population in southern Alberta until the project has concluded.

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Alberta Environment Sustainable Resource Development set up feeding spots around Pincher Creek with cameras nearby. (Courtesy of Alberta Environment Sustainable Resource Development)

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The department has been collecting hair from bears to get DNA samples. (Courtesy of Alberta Environment Sustainable Resource Development)

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Grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species three years ago. (Courtesy of Alberta Environment Sustainable Resource Development)

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The cameras caught all kinds of animals at the feeding spots, not just bears. (Courtesy of Alberta Environment Sustainable Resource Development)