Berry hunt kills BC grizzlies at staggering rate. Here's why
Wednesday, September 28, 2016, 6:04 PM - A new study suggests grizzly bears are dying at a staggering rate in southeastern B.C. as the area's bountiful berry supply lures the animals where they end up being hit by vehicles or hunted.
The research published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, shows high-energy fruits like huckleberries and buffaloberries attract the bears to the Elk Valley area, often from tens of kilometres away. The combination of a great habitat and human activity has created the area into what researchers are calling an "ecological trap."
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"In the last eight years we've lost 40 per cent of our grizzly bears in that area -- that's not normal," said Clayton Lamb, a PhD candidate in the University of Alberta's Department of Biological Sciences in a news release.
The fatalities are often caused by collisions with vehicles and trains. While hunting is often blamed for this type of population decline, Lamb says the issue is far more complex.
"Only one in roughly every three bears that die in that area is a result of hunting, so the bigger problem is really non-hunting sources. It's a cumulative effect. It's not just one thing -- it's a perfect storm of bear mortality in that area."
The reduced population of grizzlies in Elk Valley prompts more migration as less competition for berries and space becomes appealing to other bears. Once there, the bears tend to stick around and feed off other things like garbage or livestock, which results in conflicts with residents living in the area with bear attacks on the rise.
"It's not just that bears are scaring people. We have bears physically attacking people annually -- it's a pretty serious thing," Lamb said in the release.
Elk Valley is home to around 12,000 people with a major influx of tourists each summer, the study highlights. One major rail line and four highways run through or near the region.
While the provincial government can control hunting regulations in the area, Lamb says more research is needed on how to reduce collisions and decrease conflicts with residents. Researchers hope the findings will be used in shaping future plans to minimize human impacts on large carnivore populations.
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