Make grizzly bear hunt ban permanent, expert says

A wildlife biologist says it's time the Alberta government made a final decision about grizzly bear hunting in this province.

Policy against hunting the threatened bears is now reviewed annually

An Alberta wildlife biologist says the province must formalize into legislation the ban on grizzly bear hunting. (Steve Michel/Parks Canada/Canadian Press)

A wildlife biologist says it's time the Alberta government made a final decision about grizzly bear hunting in the province.

Alberta currently prohibits grizzly hunting, but the policy is reviewed annually.

Brian Horejsi, who wrote the last major report on Alberta grizzlies in 2004, said the province needs to get rid of a policy that is reviewed periodically, and pass a law instead.

"Not policy. Not a plan. We need some legislation and some regulatory action. Then we'll start to recover this grizzly bear habitat, eliminate the mortality and dismiss for once and for all time — hunting," he said.

Alberta has a smaller grizzly population than Montana and B.C., but a higher mortality rate, Horejsi said.

"They are dying in Alberta at a disproportionate rate," he said.

There are estimated to be fewer than 700 grizzlies in Alberta. They have been declared threatened under Alberta's Wildlife Act in 2010.

Ryan McClelland, who ranches about 100 kilometres west of Lethbridge, said grizzlies are on his property at least once a week, breaking into his grain bins and making him fear for his family’s safety.

"There was a couple times I took the kids to the bus with a rifle," he said.

McClelland said he’d like to see the province permit a controlled hunt in problem areas such as his.

Nathan Webb, a carnivore specialist with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, said significant conditions would have to be met before officials ever considered opening a grizzly bear hunt.

That would include a comprehensive bear-human conflict avoidance strategy and a science-based population estimate of the bears, he said.

But Horejsi said such statements from provincial officials do nothing to ease his concerns.

"We don’t need to study this bear population any more. We know that it is endangered, we know its habitat is fragmented," he said.

People who are in favour of hunting the bears, including ranchers, need to accept that grizzly bears belong here in Alberta, Horejsi said.

"If we have people who can't live with that, then what we have to do is take a contemporary and progressive approach to it and buy these people out and take that land-base and convert it to public land," he said.