Conservation group raises alarm over grizzly deaths

A Canadian conservation group says Albertans have to do more to prevent grizzly bear deaths.

5 grizzlies have been killed so far in Alberta this year

A Canadian conservation group says Albertans have to do more to prevent grizzly bear deaths.

At least five grizzlies have been killed in Alberta this year.

One was killed in self-defence, one was road kill and one was eaten by another bear. Investigations are also underway into the illegal killing of two other bears.

Sarah Elmeligi of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society says the bears have been out of hibernation for only a few months.

"The fact that we've lost five bears already and it's just the beginning of June is a little upsetting and every mortality counts when you're trying to recover a threatened population, so five deaths is significant," she said.

Elmeligi says Albertans need to eliminate or lock up anything grizzly bears are attracted to such as garbage, bee hives and — in the case of ranchers — cattle carcasses.

"We need to be disposing of cattle carcasses appropriately so that there's not something there to attract bears to the ranch in the first place," said Elmeligi.

"There's not really [any] good government programs in place right now to address that problem, and until there is we're going to keep having that problem."

Province looks to reduce human and bear conflicts

But Darcy Whiteside, spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, says the province has recently launched a pilot project in southern Alberta to collect livestock carcasses. With help from a $60,000 grant, the program shares the cost with ranchers to pick up and compost the carcasses at a centre in Cardston, Alta.

He said they have a wide range of government staff dedicated to conserving grizzly bears, which includes giving more than 200 presentations last year to ranchers, schools and community groups.

Whiteside said the main message of the presentation is to reduce attractants.

"I feel like we are making great advancements," he said.

Whiteside said while five deaths is concerning, it's difficult to say whether that it more or less than previous years.

"We don't ever want to see grizzlies dying in the province, especially from human-caused sources," he said.

Grizzly bears are a threatened species in Alberta. The grizzly hunt was suspended in 2006 and the province launched a BearSmart program that year to help reduce human and bear conflicts.

There are roughly 700 grizzlies left in Alberta. In 2011, a total of 18 bears died — five of them killed illegally.

Despite the hunting ban, an average of 15 grizzly bears have been killed every year by humans on provincial lands. Fines up to $100,000 can be handed out for killing a grizzly bear illegally.