An Update on Bear 148:
As most of you have likely read by now, grizzly bear 148 has been relocated to Kakwa Provincial Park in northern Alberta, rather than back into her home range in Banff National Park. It’s a decision that still fails to address the root of the problem.
The Alberta government, as reported by the media, felt that the first effort to relocate the bear back into Banff was a failure, as she returned to Canmore. It’s hard to imagine that wildlife managers were shocked by this outcome – wandering long distances to return to a home range is what bears do. Rather this effort should have been about buying time and coming up with a community-driven strategy to live with 148 on the landscape – complete with full trail closures, real-time information sharing, and a re-deployment of provincial conservation officers to enforce the rules (currently their staff haze bears, to little effect, off lightly travelled roads). It wasn’t.
Kakwa is great grizzly habitat (Simon knows the landscape and its bears well from his past work) – it’s also loaded with big boars. For a grizzly possibly set to have her first set of cubs next spring, it’s a curious choice – though roadless grizzly habitat in Alberta is hard to come by.
What are her odds of survival? Many people far smarter than us have already answered this question. Relocation is better than death. Just. Its success rate is small and often triples the chances for bear mortality. Throw in trying to raise cubs in an unknown land and those odds grow longer for the cubs, certainly, and for the sow as well.
And we haven’t touched on another concern: the BC grizzly bear trophy hunt. While BC borders Banff, 148 had carved out a home that didn’t put her at risk of being shot. But throw her into a new area – with increased competition – and there is every reason to believe she will wander into BC (Kakwa is, essentially, a park that’s half in BC and half in Alberta – and you can hunt bears in most BC protected areas). Yes, the new government might shut down the hunt, but it might not be in time for 148.
And if a trek into BC isn’t concerning enough, consider the fact 148 might just walk back to Banff – across countless highways, railway lines and other obstacles. If she does, what greets the bruin upon her return?
The future of 148 – despite best intentions – doesn’t look good and it’s a story that will continue to replay itself.
And that raises a critical point. It’s easy to be frustrated with the individuals who have handled the fate of 148 in Alberta. But they are just people who are, without question, trying their best in a tough situation. In every policy disagreement we’ve come across – in Yellowstone, in BC or in Alberta – it’s important to remember that we disagree with policy decisions, not human beings. What’s the difference? It’s way easier to play Monday morning quarterback than it is to be in the hot seat. We do empathize with decision makers in all cases where we choose to speak up, and we hope you do too. This should never be personal.
That said, decision makers have elected to take on these hard jobs and should be accountable to those they represent. If we don’t agree with what’s being done in our name, we must say something. And in the case of 148 – like Blaze and Scarface and so many other stories that ended in poorly – we must learn from our mistakes and work to find a better route forward.
How? Stop managing the bears and start managing the people.
We have the brains. We are the ones who can make tough decisions, like what trails to close and what how to create better enforcement policies. We are the ones who can decide to forgo a jog one night in order to save a bear given that we chose where to call home.
Bears don’t have the same tools available to them, so why do we keep trying to manage them like they do? This is the real issue. Whether or not we realize it is in time to save 148 is another question all together.