Reducing roads could boost bear population

Oct 30, 2008
Bear populations could increase by as much as five per cent if logging roads are restricted.

Alberta's scant grizzly bear population could grow by up to five per cent a year if fewer logging roads are built in the animals' habitat, according to University of Alberta researchers.

A study conducted by biologists Scott Nielsen and Mark Boyce showed that, regardless of any ecologically friendly harvesting practices adopted by industry, if road density is not reduced in logging areas, the grizzly population may continue to decline. It is estimated that there are currently less than 500 grizzly bears in Alberta.

The study, conducted in a 9,800 square-kilometre area of west-central Alberta that includes parts of Jasper National Park, compared current harvesting practices that use small clearcuts in a checkerboard pattern, with one that would mimic a naturally-occurring disturbance like a wildfire, resulting in large clear-cut areas. The second method is thought to be more environmentally friendly to the animals, but was found by the researchers to have little benefit because of associated roads.

The U of A study tracked 40 grizzlies fitted with GPS radio collars. Their foraging and bedding patterns were monitored over a five-year period and the two potential future landscapes relating to forest harvest patterns were modelled for the next 100 years. The results showed that while both harvesting scenarios increased overall habitat conditions for the bears, that benefit was offset by increased risk of human-caused mortality associated with roads.

Roads in and out of logging areas increase the animals' risk of death though human-bear conflict, vehicle-caused collisions, poaching and displacement from feeding and habitat areas.

The results were published recently in the journal Biological Conservation.

"No matter what kind of forestry harvesting practices are used, without reducing human access to grizzly habitat, the population remains threatened," said Boyce, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

"Road development, access management and human attitudes are far more important factors to Alberta grizzly populations than the size and shape of clearcuts," said Nielsen, an assistant professor in the U of A Department of Renewable Resources.

With controlled access to logging areas, Boyce estimated that the province's beleaguered bear population could increase by up to five per cent a year, based on a similar situation in the Yellowstone ecosystem. In 1983 road controls were placed on grizzly habitat there, and the population has since grown from 183 bears to more than 600. "With careful management, we should be able to achieve a similar growth rate in Alberta," he said.

"Ideally, unnecessary roads would be decommissioned or gated by industry and limits on road development identified."

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: Pacific leaders say climate will claim entire nations

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US mulls lifting protected status for grizzly bear

Dec 12, 2013

US wildlife managers on Thursday recommended lifting endangered species protection for grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, which, if approved, could open the way for them to be hunted again.

Recommended for you

Selective logging takes its toll on mammals, amphibians

3 hours ago

The selective logging of trees in otherwise intact tropical forests can take a serious toll on the number of animal species living there. Mammals and amphibians are particularly sensitive to the effects of ...

User comments : 9

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

MikeB
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 30, 2008
Ya what we need are a whole lot more big grizzly bears in the woods. Not enough campers and hikers being mauled to death.
GrayMouser
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 31, 2008
"...without reducing human access to grizzly habitat..."

So they obviously want to close off large tracts of the western US to humans.
Geoffsimosvho
2.8 / 5 (6) Oct 31, 2008
Roads are a threat to many different organisms. They can separate populations into sub populations which encourages inbreeding, decreasing biodiversity within each sub population.

This is especially dangerous when organisms are facing an ecological disaster that could cause a drastic decrease in population size. The lack of diversity within a population makes it less adaptable to changes in the environment.
MikeB
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 31, 2008
Roads are a threat to many different organisms. They can separate populations into sub populations which encourages inbreeding, decreasing biodiversity within each sub population.

This is especially dangerous when organisms are facing an ecological disaster that could cause a drastic decrease in population size. The lack of diversity within a population makes it less adaptable to changes in the environment.


Huh?
GrayMouser
2 / 5 (8) Oct 31, 2008
Roads are a threat to many different organisms. They can separate populations into sub populations which encourages inbreeding, decreasing biodiversity within each sub population.

This is especially dangerous when organisms are facing an ecological disaster that could cause a drastic decrease in population size. The lack of diversity within a population makes it less adaptable to changes in the environment.


Huh?


Your not supposed to ask that...
Velanarris
1.6 / 5 (5) Nov 02, 2008
Roads are a threat to many different organisms. They can separate populations into sub populations which encourages inbreeding, decreasing biodiversity within each sub population.

This is especially dangerous when organisms are facing an ecological disaster that could cause a drastic decrease in population size. The lack of diversity within a population makes it less adaptable to changes in the environment.


Sub group diversity is a well known evolutionary mechanism. Part of the reason why we have so many species of bears is due to geological population sub division. If their genetic similarity was so great then one disease would wipe them all out.

You're not wrong, but you're misleading. You have to frame your reference by how small a group the current human infrastructure is creating. Last i checked, bears are rather well populated in their respective zones, and far from decline, let alone inbreeding danger.

The greatest dangers that these bears face are being hunted or displaced, not population division.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2008
barakn, Excalibur, weigh in if you feel so strongly.
deepsand
1 / 5 (8) Nov 06, 2008
The greatest dangers that these bears face are being hunted or displaced, not population division.
You've missed the obvious fact that displacement frequently results in sub-division.
Velanarris
1 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2008
The greatest dangers that these bears face are being hunted or displaced, not population division.
You've missed the obvious fact that displacement frequently results in sub-division.


Which means you can take displacement off the lists of threats, my bad.