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 with Rob Miskosky

Myths and Realities

The letter reeked of criticism, castigating the minister and his staff as being ignorant, perhaps even moronic in their knowledge of grizzly bears. In its first paragraph the authors announce, “We are taking this opportunity to clarify a number of facts so that you and your staff can provide the media with accurate and up-to-date information when speaking about grizzly bears.”

The letter, cc’d to me and others, ends with, “We would appreciate it if you would ensure that all SRD staff and spokespeople are well educated about the realities of grizzly bear behaviour, the most effective management approaches and mortality statistics and communicate these truths when speaking with the media and other stakeholders.”

I presume the intent of this statement is to let Minister Knight and his staff know that their grizzly bear dishonesty is not appreciated by the Y2Y cartel and the clandestine group called the WildCanada Conservation Alliance, the authors of the letter titled “Myths and Realities about Grizzly Bears, Hunting and Management”.

And this after Minister Knight lambasted our not-so favourite protectionist crew in the Edmonton Sun for not putting their money where their mouths are. “They’re keen in buying advertising, maybe they could think of a better way to use that money,” Knight told journalist Bill Kaufman.

And, “If they felt that $150,000 wasn’t enough, perhaps they’d like to bring some contributions to the table.”

Minister Knight was referring to the $150,000 the government spends annually on its BearSmart program designed to reduce human-bear conflicts.

And then the Alberta Wilderness Association’s (AWA) Nigel Douglas, a transplanted Brit who left the UK nine years ago to save Alberta, chimed in and accused Knight of not taking grizzly bear conservation seriously by not listing the great bear as an endangered species. Which many consider to be spurious (read “The Grizzly Affair” last issue and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Brian Bildson in this issue).

And it suddenly appears as though a competition is brewing between WildCanada’s Jim Pissot and the AWA’s Nigel Douglas to see who becomes the poster boy for grizzly bear salvation in Alberta—I’m not sure who is winning though, both seem to be making headlines daily.

Let’s now examine the content of the letter, the “myths and realities” as written.

Myth #1 – Hunting bears will help keep them wild and wary of humans.

Reality #1 –
According to the letter, “There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement.”

Believe it or not, concerning scientific validity, I agree. However, try as I might, I can’t find any scientific validity to prove that hunting doesn’t help keep bears wild and wary of humans either. Call it a mute point if you will­—neither myth nor reality. Having said that, there are many in the scientific community who believe a hunted bear is a wary bear. As pointed out by professional biologist and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science, University of Calgary, Valerius Geist, “Where they meet humans regularly they draw absolutely logical conclusions and avoid such where humans carry guns and act assertively.” Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it.

Myth #2 – Hunting grizzly bears will keep the population healthy by eliminating older bears.

Reality #2 –
“Again, there is no scientific evidence to support this statement. In fact a study of grizzly bears in Kananaskis while the hunt was still occurring concluded that the population was in decline.”

The letter offers as evidence a study showing “an influx of younger immigrant males, which apparently contributed to low reproductive rate and population decline.” I imagine the authors were referring to infanticide—the killing of offspring by new males after the dominant male has been removed by hunting. The premise is the mother will breed earlier with the new male after her cubs have been killed. However, a study in British Columbia in 2005 found that there was “no apparent increase in infanticide in areas where hunting was permitted and areas where hunting was prohibited.” (McLellan, B.N. 2005. Sexually Selected Infanticide in Grizzly Bears: The Effects of Hunting on Cub Survival).

I also offer that the authors of Myths and Realities read southwestern Alberta rancher Blaine Marr’s letter on page 14.

Myth #3 – Hunting grizzly bears is an accepted management tool.

Reality #3
– “The premise behind this myth is the belief that hunting is necessary to protect people and livestock from danger.”

To the contrary, the premise behind this “truth” is the fact that hunting is an accepted management tool used by wildlife managers across the North American continent, and has been for many species of game, and for many years. The North American model of wildlife conservation, and management, is one of the greatest success stories the world over. To suggest otherwise is ignorant. The author’s of this letter should realize that their opposition to predator management (namely wolves) is shortsighted and reason why diminishing ungulate populations, an important food source of grizzly bears, is a serious problem in our eastern slopes and perhaps reason for grizzly bear habituation to food sources on private lands, such as livestock.

Myth #4 – There is no compensation for grizzly bear depredation on cattle and Alberta ranchers are suffering large economic losses.

Reality #4 “In 2007, Alberta livestock owners received $1M in compensation due to predation.”

You can’t invent a myth just to rebuke it while casting a favourable light on your argument. Alberta’s Wildlife Predator Compensation Program is a very well known program. It is a program that is paid for by levy revenue collected from hunters and administered by SRD and the ACA. Is Y2Y or WildCanada contributing to the program? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Myth #5 – Grizzly bears seem to exist very well with development.

Reality #5
– According to the letter, “This is so obviously not the case that it hardly needs a scientific reference.”

Again, I’ll state that you “can’t invent a myth just to rebuke it.” But while we’re on the subject, let’s look at a couple of instances that show grizzly bears may in fact benefit from some forms of development, or at least the end result of such. There are far too many differing studies to prove that grizzly bears are significantly impacted by human activity. To suggest that all human encroachment impacts grizzlies is purely speculative.

In 2008 Marc Daniel Symbaluk wrote a thesis showing that mining activity does not impact grizzly bear habitat or the bear itself. His thesis proved that assumptions made by environmentalists opposed to the Cheviot Mine and the impacts it would have on grizzly bears were not only inaccurate, but in most cases completely false. As well, forestry creates feeding areas for grizzly bears including roads that provide a rich source of grasses and other foods such as berries. Cutlines offer the same benefit.

Myth #6 – Unlike their comparatively docile relatives the black bears, grizzlies are aggressive and predatorial, and often cause damage to livestock, apiaries, and are responsible for the bulk of bear-related human fatalities in North America.

Reality #6
“In fact, the opposite is known to be true.”

Again, who is making up these myths? Both black and grizzly bears share assertiveness when presented with the right circumstance. So, it would be asinine to think that one is less than aggressive and predatorial than the other. According to the wonderful world of Wikipedia, over the last 10 years there have been 17 fatal black bear attacks in North America as opposed to 10 fatal grizzly/brown bear attacks. If you consider the numbers of blacks compared to browns, one could dispute reality #6 quite easily. However, I don’t consider this to be a myth, but rather an easy way to justify an argument.

Myth #7 – Since the end of the grizzly bear hunt, self-defence killings, motor vehicle accidents and problem-bear killings have all gone up, suggesting an increase in population and in human-grizzly conflict.

Reality #7
“There is no evidence of an increase in lethal interactions between grizzlies and humans since 2005, the last year of a legal hunt in Alberta.”

Somebody forgot to look at the chart (click here – in red, mine) supplied in the letter, which clearly shows the opposite of “Reality #7”. There is an obvious increase in self-defence killings, motor vehicle accidents and problem-bear killings. I’m not sure how the chart could be shown to read otherwise?

Once again we are left to ponder the end game and the real reasons behind predator salvation? This is a question that needs to be answered, because using the wolf and the grizzly to further a preservationist agenda where individual rights must be sacrificed in order to create a vast network of protected wildlife corridors, is definitely worth further scrutiny. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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