Saturday, March 5, 2016

Carnivore discussion left some questions unanswered

Speakers:  Jeff Bectell, Annie Loosen, Tony Bruder, Andrea Morehouse, and Terry Mack
Toni Lucas

Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association (WBRA) held two Carnivores and Communities information sessions, the first in Cowley Hall Wednesday March 2 with approximately 60 people in attendance, and the second in Cardston Seniors Centre on Thursday March 3, which 40 people attended. At both sessions the featured speakers included WBRA's Jeff Bectell who also acted as MC, Andrea Morehouse reporting on the grizzly bear project, Annie Loosen tallking about the black bear project, Fish and Wildlife officer Terry Mack who addressed changes in the compensation program and area statistics, and Tony Bruder who addressed the dead stock removal program.

In addition to the speakers they showed the films 'Sharing the Range' and 'Boneyard Bears, and Wolves'. The core work of the WBRA is to try and strike a balance between people and nature and to try to find solutions for ranchers, farmers and wildlife. They work on preventive solutions that make it more tenable for both large carnivores and other wildlife and people to share the land. Although the WBRA do try to help find solutions for any wildlife problems for landowners carnivores pose a more immediate threat. Carnivores were the topic of the evening and the focus of study, suggestions and solutions for possible human and wildlife conflict. Although bears were heavily featured in the discussion they also discussed cougars, bears, and wolves.

WBRA: Chair Jeff Bectell

WBRA Chair Jeff Bectell told of some of the work the WBRA has been doing and what they can offer to people in the area. The WBRA is very aware a farming and ranching can encompass both a work site and are a home where families members of all ages live, play, and work. "Luckily, most of the time, these animals do go off in the other direction." The group helps with education, reducing attractants for carnivores, and making it difficult for animals to get to areas which cannot be eliminated but still have attraction for animals. Some of their projects include electric fencing, dead stock removal bins, bear proof garbage and food containers, bear proof grain bins, new doors for grain bins and removal of old wooden bins and debris when a new bin is installed. The group is now experimenting with 3D fencing. Currently the this fencing is two layers of fencing with the outer layer electrified and the inner layer visible. This discourages both carnivores and grazing animals such as deer and elk who may have previously just jumped the fence. The distance of separation between the two fences makes it harder for animals to clear both fences at the same time. The purpose of the WBRA is to improve peoples safety and prevent carnivores from becoming problem animals. "It's not about one side versus the other, it's about trying to solve some difficult problems," said Bectell. He highlighted in both words and photos instances where bears have been close to the home, along walk ways, in and around work sites like farm buildings livestock pens, grain bins and other areas of high human traffic on a farm. "Having the bears in your space, that is not always what people like to see." He reminded everyone actual confrontation between humans and predators are rare, however with more wildlife coming onto farms as the animals lose their habitats increase the odds of a problem. Bectell explained this is an issue which is not unique to southern Alberta and groups like themselves are working independently and together toward solutions across North America.

Andrea Morehouse, Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project

Andrea Morehouse headed the Southwest Alberta Grizzly Monitoring Project which started in 2011 and is currently in peer review. She monitored grizzly bear populations, densities and distributions both locally and at ecosystem level in the area south of Highway 3, from the BC border to the USA border, and to the east of Cardston. The study was conducted on both public and privately owned land. For the study Morehouse set up rub stations: areas that bears either already rub on or were likely to rub on, and put up strings of barbed wire to capture some of the hair. She then collected the hair, which included samples from a variety of species. Bear hair was sorted and separated into black and grizzly bear samples. Grizzly bear hair was then further tested. The DNA was analyzed to estimate how many individual bears are in the area. This study recorded instances of both resident and transitory bears, and Morehouse does not claim to have acquired samples from every bear in the area. Morehouse has amassed a database that includes genetic information of 213 individual bears in the area that is know as Bear Monitoring Areas 6. Her non-invasive research techniques are being used as a basis for a new study in Bear Monitoring Area 5 by Mike Verhage. Area 5 encompasses north of Highway 3 to Chain Lakes.

Annie Loosen Black Bear Project

During the Grizzly Bear Monitoring Project hair samples were taken from both grizzly and black bears. Lossen is using 2013 and 2014 hair samples to coordinate a study on the local black bear population for the same geographic region. "Given a growing grizzly population it would be good to have baseline information." This will be the first population study on black bears for southwestern Alberta. "The second objective is being able to look at the habitat selection differences between the two bear species." Loosen worked closely with Morehouse on the Grizzly Bear project, and works with the WBRA and with trail cameras at conflict sites. "In going through a lot of photos, I'd notice there would be a lot of grizzlies in shots coming in and out and then, all of a sudden there would be a black bear." Just as farmers and ranchers are dealing with a rising grizzly bear populations, so are the black bears. Loosen talked with land owners, wildlife officers and officers she deduced, "It seems like black bears might be shifting their patterns of habitat use." Loosen shared a lot of information about black bears in general: they are omnivorous, and traditionally preferred wooded habitats. The species is not listed at risk in Alberta, and are hunted. Loosen said the statistics are approximately 40 - 50 thousand are harvested across North America each year. Loosen shared some of her study results which have been received back from the lab. In the 2013 samples they identified 232 individual black bears, 129 males, 103 females. In 2014 222 individual black bear samples were collected, 122 males and 100 females. Loosen said she is hoping to be done her study in a little over a year. Loosen encouraged anyone who has noticed any changes in black bear habits to inform her so she can add the information to her research. She said the black bear management plan is open online for public comment through the end of March.

Fish and Wildlife Regional Problem Wildlife Specialist Terry Mack

Numbers in the open are 2015 statistics, inside ( ) 2014 statistics

Fish and Wildlife Regional Problem Wildlife Specialist Terry Mack addressed some of the compensation management the Alberta Government provides for landowners when wildlife injuries or kills livestock. Mack talked about the roles of Fish and Wildlife officers, and statistics for the communities of Claresholm, Blairmore, Pincher Creek and Cardston in regards to grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and cougars. The Alberta government will also compensate for eagle/livestock incidents. 

Numbers in the open are 2015 statistics, inside ( ) 2014 statistics

 "What you are going to see here is for most of the districts, most of the large carnivores we are going to see a drop in most of our occurrences." Mack had statistics on administration times, poaching incidents, sightings but he focused on livestock kills and injuries and human conflict categories. "Because those are the ones that are causing us problems." Human conflict statistics includes any kind of property damage. "Pincher Creek is the only district where we actually saw a bit of an increase in livestock kills, or the occurrences or complaints coming into the office. Overall the conflict numbers have dropped." He encouraged all interactions with carnivores should be reported whether it is a sighting, property damage, or an injury to an animal whether it is to livestock or the wildlife.  You can phone your district office or call the hotline at 1-800-642-3800 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Numbers in the open are 2015 statistics, inside ( ) 2014 statistics

Grizzly bears are where a number of the conflicts arise and currently the grizzly bear has been listed as a threatened species and it is illegal to shoot one unless you are physically threatened.  Many people asked questions about the relocation projects for problem bears. Where do they go? Do they continue to re-offend in the new area? Are they teaching their young to adopt problem behaviour? Do they come back? Mack answered many, and Jeff Bectell said, "These are questions the province is asking wildlife managers, the people who live up there, it's all part of the discussion." Then you get into the dilemma of human borders and boundaries. A problem bear in Montana might be moved to a northern area of the state, then go to Alberta or British Columbia where some other jurisdiction now is dealing with that bear. "Everybody's saying 'Where do we draw the line?' It's definitely something people are thinking about. How many strikes does a bear get, how does this relate to population numbers, is there a place that is short on bears?" 

Numbers in the open are 2015 statistics, inside ( ) 2014 statistics

Carnivore Working Group Tony Bruder

Carnivore Working Group Member Tony Bruder explained the dead stock removal program and the bear proof containers. One of the things the working group do is attempt to reduce carnivore attractants on a site. The dead stock containers and bear proof garbage bins or grain bins are designed so even if a predator smells food, they do not get the reward of getting to that food. Bruder talked about what permits are required to transport a dead animal to a deposit site, why the RFID tags are required on all cattle which goes into the bins, when to contact West Coast Reductions for pick up, and the paperwork involved. He explained cattle and horses are required to be transported to a Class 1 landfill, whereas poultry, pigs, and sheep can go to the local Crowsnest Pass/Pincher Creek Landfill. A dead stock composting project was attempted in the Cardston area and had some success, however the compost cannot be used on land which will raise livestock or a human crop as there is the chance prions could survive the decomposition process. They are hoping to revive the project using the compost at the Cardston Landfill reclamation areas.

Related link: Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association

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