Grizzly bears have been listed as threatened in the Canadian province of Alberta, and a ban on hunting has been extended by officials who say the animals are suffering from habitat loss and low reproductive success.
While bears elsewhere in the Northern Rockies have been rebounding from near-extermination last century, fewer than 700 roam Alberta outside of Banff and Jasper National Parks.
Residential construction, logging and energy development have pushed deeper and deeper into the grizzly’s wilderness refuges, breaking up the province’s bear population into isolated small groups.
Thursday’s announcement by Alberta’s minister for sustainable resource development follows years of warnings that more protections were needed.
Conservationists welcomed the move, but said the government must follow through with regulations to ensure better protections for the bears. Even then it could take decades for the population to rebound.
“Everybody used to think that in the great wilds of Canada, there were lots of bears,” said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This is kind of a recognition that everybody can affect their bear population.”
Hunting — first suspended by Alberta in 2006 — will remain outlawed until new population goals are met. Over the last several decade, more than 90 percent of bear deaths were attributable to humans, according to a 2010 report by Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife Division.
Historically, the number of grizzlies in the province is estimated to have been in the thousands.
The Alberta government had twice rejected earlier recommendations from its Endangered Species Conservation Committee to list grizzlies as threatened.
There are about 16,000 grizzlies in neighboring British Columbia and 1,500 in the U.S., excluding Alaska. Several populations straddle the US-Canada border, including about 1,000 bears in parts of northern Montana and southern Alberta that surround Glacier National Park.
“We share this province with grizzly bears and are committed to ensuring grizzly bears remain part of Alberta’s landscape,” said Mel Knight, the province’s sustainable resource minister.