Grizzly bears are returning to the southwestern Alberta prairies, according to a wildlife officer.

Residents of Cardston and Pincher Creek are reporting grizzly sightings at least three times a week, said Lyle Lester, a provincial fish and wildlife officer.

"It seems like we've had a spring that has been slow in coming and this means bears are hungry," he said. "They tend to go places where they can find something to eat. We're finding they are moving further and further east."

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Lester said when he transferred to the area 15 years ago, seeing a grizzly was rare. The sightings mark a return to the original range of the grizzly, which was pushed into the mountain region as human settlement grew, he added.

"Grizzlies disappeared…in many of these areas probably close to 70 years ago. And it's kind of a different critter when you see a big old bear lumbering across a prairie landscape, and wandering through your cattle area, your ranchland. It kind of makes your eyes go a little big."

The grizzlies in the area are mostly coming north from Montana, where the regional bear population is as large as the entire population in Alberta, Lester said.