December 12th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
Crowsnest Pass bear numbers decrease by half
CNP Bearsmart’s Christy Pool speculates why...
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Pass Herald Reporter
Each year between spring and fall, Crowsnest Pass sees on average 30 black bears and three to five grizzlies enter the community. In 2018, however, the Crowsnest Pass Bearsmart Association observed a significant drop in bear occurrences, recording only 12 black bears and no grizzly bears.

The area surveyed is what Bearsmart refers to as “the red zone”, which includes the immediate commercial and residential districts in the municipal valley and a 2-km buffer of Crown land around this red zone.
The association several theories that may account for the decrease in bear sightings in the area.

The first theory is that bears perished in their dens after a long, cold, hard winter.

"When bears go into the den, they must have enough of a reserve to make it through the entire winter time because they need to come out when there’s food available. With how drawn out the winter was and how deep the snow was, some of them may not have made it out of the den,” says Christy Pool, president of the Crowsnest Pass Bearsmart Association.

The fires south and west of Crowsnest Pass have also played a significant role in displacing all types of wildlife, especially prey like deer, elk, moose and small animals that bears feed on. The bears may have followed their prey out of the region.

The Bearsmart Association also noticed a slight increase of boars – large male bears - in the area. Because these bears pose a threat to sows or younger bears, they tend to clear out of areas with boars, which is another factor that may contribute to the low bear numbers.
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On top of that, there is the unknown number of bears lost through hunting or euthanasia. Three bears were reported legally hunted in the valley this year, although that number could be higher since hunters are not obliged to report a bear harvest to Fish and Wildlife. Landowners on acreages are also not required to report the black bears they euthanize on their property.

On a positive note, a contributing factor to the bear decrease could be attributed to successful “Bearsmarting” in the community, a sign that bear management strategies are working and that the community is becoming more responsible when it comes to limiting animal attractants.

“We’re really impressed with the number of negative bear occurrences. That number dropping is a good sign. You still want a bear population - that's why we live here - but you don’t want it to be in a negative manner. You don't want garbage bears or habituated bears that are used to hanging around people and backyards. Our town has done an amazing job of cleaning up the garbage attractants in the spring, so the bears may have passed through and carried on because they’re not finding the food source that they had before," says Pool, although she adds that better clearing of apple and fruit trees could be improved on.
All these factors come into play and any or all of them could cause a drastic change in bear numbers, really fast.
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“The winter especially can be very brutal for them. Last year overall was really hard on all the wildlife populations,” says Pool. “We have to see now if it’s something they can rebound from.”

While this is certainly a significant drop to note, it’s too early to start worrying. The Bearsmart Association and Fish and Wildlife will continue to monitor bear numbers in the Pass to determine whether the decline is a concern.

“We usually give it three years before we start to think that there is a problem. We’re monitoring the situation to see if it changes and if it doesn't change, then we will start pushing for more details and studying more of what’s happening. It's pretty normal to see a change when you look at all the considerations that play into it. That's why we give it two to three years before getting worried about it,” says Pool.

Overall, Pool says the existing bear population in Crowsnest Pass is rather healthy. The sows this year had healthy cub numbers, with a few sets of twins and triplets, and this certainly plays an important role in shaping a healthy bear population. With a milder winter and no forest fires, Pool says the bear population could easily rebound.

The CNP Bearsmart Association relies on information submitted from the public to determine population numbers. To report a bear sighting, call Pool at 403-563-8723. If it is an emergency situation involving wildlife, call Fish and Wildlife.
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December 12th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
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