A Day in the Field

Today is the day – its field day! A definite favourite part of the job amongst many of the biologists working on the grizzly bear project. It doesn’t feel much like work when you get to be outside exploring the world around you!

The morning is fresh and bright, and we’re eager to start the day. Although it’s a little cloudy, this doesn’t dampen our spirits as we head out on the road to begin our grizzly bear hair snag set-up. As we make our way, the truck loaded to the brim with gear and pulling a trailer with our trusty side-by-side, the sun starts to peek through the clouds, energizing us for the day ahead.

After a bit of a drive, we’ve made it to our first site. Despite what started out as a lovely morning, the sky darkens as we start to unload the truck and we feel the threat of rain. Welcome to springtime in Northwestern Alberta! Luckily, we’ve come prepared – in this job, you have to be ready for anything!

With our gear unloaded, we head out on the side-by-side… and that’s when the mud starts to fly! With all the rain we’ve had over the past couple of weeks it makes for an exciting ride! The roads and trails are okay for the most part, except for some very obvious washouts, potholes and ruts. Needless to say, the side-by-side is working very hard and we are getting a mud bath! Luckily, our trusty machine is able to get us to pretty much all of our sites, and we make new ones where needed.

At each of our sites, the hair snags are set with barbed wire pulled tight, approximately 2.5 – 3 ft off the ground, and about 6 ft in diameter. When a bear visits the site, the barbed wire serves to snag clumps of hair as the bear rubs against it. In order to attract bears to the area, these sites are scented with a natural lure poured on the ground in the center of each snag site. Our sites are signed and labeled, and approximately placed in each township across Bear Management Area 1 (BMA1). Wherever possible, we make sure to set the snag sites in habitat that would most likely be used by bears, such as wet meadows or stream banks, gully bottoms, groundwater seepage areas, regenerating burns and clearcuts.

Over the coming field season, we are excited to be working across BMA1 alongside our delivery partners, Alberta Conservation Association (ACA), from mid-May until mid-July. Our next visit out to the field will be to collect bear hair, set camera traps, and of course, continue the fun!!

Here’s a link to see a bit of what our field day looked like:


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Alberta BearSmart – Spring is Here!

ABS Spring Newsletter

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What exactly is GrizzTracker?

People that spend time out on the landscape often have information that can be useful for monitoring wildlife populations, and the collection of these data is referred to as citizen science. Unfortunately, citizen science programs often have a variety of pitfalls, and there are rarely opportunities to include this type of information into management programs. Our team has worked to develop a citizen science program that can fully utilize the wealth of local knowledge and experiences of people working across BMA1, within a scientifically rigorous framework.

The objectives of GrizzTracker are to:

1. Record opportunistic sightings of grizzly bears in a scientifically defensible way, allowing for integration of land-users experience with science-based decision making. This would greatly improve the utility of citizen science data collection in a variety of other research programs.

2. Provide opportunities for public involvement, education, and awareness related to grizzly bears and landscape management. Public engagement is critical not only for achieving wildlife management objectives, but also for building and maintaining social licence operating on the landscape and encouraging a stewardship ethic.

3. Continue to build and strengthen relationships, facilitate dialogue, data sharing, and knowledge transfer between organizations interested in the BMA 1 landscape.

Previous efforts to use opportunistic wildlife sightings have been hampered by limited information on variation in observer effort through space (where people are searching) and time (when people are searching). This shortfall has severely limited how useful many citizen science programs area. GrizzTracker is a specially designed smartphone app that attempts to overcome these hurdles.

To do this, GrizzTracker will record the spatial and temporal distribution of observer effort by collecting GPS location “pings” from smartphone users. But have no fear – location pings and user information is all totally anonymous! (all app users are issued a number). However, this location information is incredibly important – as previously noted, by collecting it we can determine how much time an app user spends “looking for grizzlies” in their day-to-day activities, across a certain area. With this in hand, we can then relate the distribution of grizzly bear sightings, through both space and time, to our distribution of observer effort.

This allows us figure out where grizzly bears are being seen or not, and how frequently, based on how much a user is “looking” for bears in an area. This data will enable grizzly bear occurrence to be displayed across BMA1. It will also help with monitoring seasonal patterns in grizzly bear occurrence near human-use areas, and can be used to develop real-time safety alerts for industry and other people working across BMA1. Even more broadly, the general public can learn about population monitoring techniques, Alberta BearSmart, and what we find through citizen contributions to grizzly bear data collection.

Overall, engaging industry and agriculture personnel, and the broader public, in reporting sightings will encourage stewardship of grizzly bears and their habitat. And that’s something we’re all striving for.

For questions or comments, please contact Courtney Hughes at Courtney.Hughes@gov.ab.ca

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Check out the great story on GrizzTracker and the Northwest Grizzly Bear Program!

Thank you to Trina Moyles and Keeley Dakin for the great story and photos!


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Grizzly Bears in Alberta

Grizzly bears are listed as a Threatened species within Alberta, meaning that habitat alteration and human-caused mortality have the potential to put the species at a risk of disappearing from the Alberta landscape.

One of the main hindrances to grizzly bear recovery efforts in northern Alberta is a lack of knowledge on grizzly bears in the area. Grizzlies in northern Alberta’s Grizzly Bear Management Area 1 (also referred to as BMA 1) experience different habitat and landscape conditions from the rest of Alberta’s grizzly bear range. Therefore, it is very difficult to apply grizzly bear knowledge learned elsewhere in the province, to the vast landscape of BMA 1.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration, including government, researchers, petroleum industry, forestry, utilities sector, agriculture, recreation and other land users is a vital step in learning more about Northwest grizzlies.

The Northwest Grizzly Bear Program was reconvened in January 2014 as a collaboration between government, industry, and researchers to address grizzly bear knowledge gaps in BMA1. Members of the NW Program team include:

  • Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) Resource Management staff
  • Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF) staff
  • Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd. (DMI)
  • Canadian Forest Products Ltd. (Canfor)
  • Manning Forest Products, a division of West Fraser Ltd. (MFP)
  • Boucher Bros. Lumber Ltd.
  • Tolko Industries
  • ATCO Electric
  • Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL)
  • Husky Energy
  • Public at Large representative

Additionally, this team works in collaboration with:

  • Miistakis Institute (MI)
  • Dr. Scott Nielsen (University of Alberta)
  • Alberta Conservation Association (ACA)
  • Dr. Samuel Cushman (U.S. Forest Service)
  • Gordon Stenhouse (Foothills Research Institute)
  • Dr. Garrett Street (Mississippi State University)
  • Alberta Energy Regulator (AER)

The aim of this team is to leverage available funding, resources, and opportunities to identify and address knowledge gaps related to grizzly bear population size and habitat use within BMA 1. Secondly, this team aims to identify practical, locally appropriate practices and contributions industry can make to Alberta’s grizzly bear recovery goals within an integrated forum. The team has a long list of projects we would like to accomplish, and with two major programs currently underway.

Stay tuned to this blog for updates on GrizzTracker, and the Northwest Grizzly Bear Program!

For general information on grizzlies in Alberta, or Grizzly Bear Recovery, visit: http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/bears/grizzly-bear.aspx or http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wildlife-management/grizzly-bear-recovery-plan/default.aspx

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