Alberta is on the verge of losing one of its iconic species if the province doesn't beef up its efforts to protect its grizzly bears, says a top U.S.-based environmental group.
Jeff Gailus, an Albertan conservation expert with the Natural Resources Defence Council, warned international experts at the annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in Edmonton on Tuesday that the Alberta government is more concerned about profit than protection when it comes to its grizzly bear population.
Alberta estimates there are about 700 grizzlies in the province, compared to 841 in 2000.
In June, Alberta designated the grizzly as a threatened species in an effort to better protect the animals and maintain the overall provincial population.
The designation 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.
Gailus said he recognizes Alberta is trying hard to manage the species but said it is simply not doing enough to get the job done when the animals share their range with petroleum exploration.
"Grizzly bears have a hard time surviving when the dominant paradigm is drill, drill, drill," Gailus said.
"What we need to do is find a balance of providing adequate habitat and habitat security for grizzly bears and allowing some industrial development in some areas."
George Hamilton, manager of priority species with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development — the provincial agency which designated the bears as a threatened species — said at the Edmonton meeting that the province's grizzly population isn't at risk.
Hamilton said there is no evidence of a decline in grizzly numbers.
"There are always concerns. But I don't believe that we're going to see grizzly bears disappear on us any time soon," Hamilton told CBC News.