Joe Northrup has completed his M.Sc. thesis on grizzly bear habitat selection and movement in relation to roads and access. Throughout the last 3 years the research team captured and collared 7 grizzly bears and equipped them with GPS radio collars set to obtain locations once every hour. They also deployed over 70 traffic counters and trail cameras to determine the traffic patterns on roads in the area. These data were used examine grizzly bear habitat selection and movement in relation to roads.
Joe’s research indicates that grizzly bears in southwest Alberta avoided roads traveled by more than 20 cars per day, especially during daylight, when bears moved very little, and tended to spend more time bedding. After dark, when most roads in the area were less busy, grizzly bears were more active and did not avoid roads, often using them as potential travel routes.
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Another aspect of Joe’s research focused on bear-human conflict on the ranchlands in southwest Alberta. Using data from the GPS collars, combined with 10 years of data on conflicts, from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Joe was able to outline areas on the ranchlands that were both more susceptible to conflict, but also where bears were more likely to be. The maps created from this analysis currently are being used by SRD to plan and implement measures to reduce bear-human conflict. These measures, of which Shell has been an integral part, include securing grain bins and purchasing bear-proof bins in which to compost dead livestock.
My current research has two main components. First, through collaborations with multiple agencies, we are working to develop a cost effective monitoring program for grizzly bears in southwestern Alberta. The project takes advantage of a natural bear behaviour – rubbing. Bears rub on trees and other objects (signposts, power poles, etc.) to communicate information to other bears. In the process, they, leave behind hair samples, and their DNA. By collecting these samples at regular intervals while bears are active and getting those samples genetically analyzed, we are able to “mark” individual bears and monitor changes in grizzly bear populations, densities, and distributions across southwestern Alberta. The study area for this project is bounded by Highway 3 to the north, British Columbia to the west, Montana to the south, and the edge of grizzly bear range to the east. To date, we have surveyed and identified 823 rub objects on public and private lands, and collected approximately 5,000 hair samples.
The second component of my research involves the evaluation of carnivore-agriculture conflict mitigation strategies. Private lands constitute a large portion of available carnivore habitat in southwestern Alberta. Carnivore-ranching conflicts in this region of Alberta are attributable primarily to wolves and grizzly bears. While the number of conflicts involving these species is increasing, the efficacy of programs aimed at mitigating those conflicts has not been quantitatively evaluated. My research will evaluate two programs in particular, the intercept feeding program, and attractant management (itself involving several components) to ensure that allocated time and resources are used most efficiently.