Reducing Grizzly Bear Agricultural Conflicts

by Dr. Andrea Morehouse

Facilitating coexistence between humans and large carnivores is a pressing challenge to those tasked with managing human-wildlife conflicts globally. Although problems and solutions tend to be site-specific, the general premise of human-wildlife conflict is consistent: Where people and wildlife share the landscape, challenges arise. 

Although grizzly bears are listed as provincially threatened in Alberta, the Rocky Mountain subpopulation of grizzly bears, which includes the bears in southwestern Alberta, is increasing. In southwestern Alberta, conflicts between grizzly bears and agricultural activities have increased over the last 15 years, and the distribution of conflicts is spreading east. 

Generally, the scientific literature lacks examples of program evaluation aimed at addressing conflicts between people and carnivores, particularly from the perspectives of people directly participating in such endeavors. Evidence-based decisions to help design and implement programs that promote coexistence between people and carnivores is required. With help from a Christine Stevens Wildlife Award, we used a case study approach to evaluate the effectiveness of conflict mitigation efforts by the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association’s Carnivores and Communities Program (CACP). 

The CACP’s goals include reducing livestock or crop loss and addressing safety risks from large carnivores (grizzly and black bears, wolves, and cougars) by engaging residents in hands-on programming. We used a web-based survey primarily distributed to local residents via email as a cost-effective and efficient data collection technique. We collected information on human demographics; perspectives on the efficacy of, or programming needs for, attractant management projects, removal of deadstock (i.e., livestock who have died), and bear safety workshops; and motivations or barriers to participation in human-carnivore conflict mitigation programs. 

Survey results indicated that participants in the CACP felt the program effectively reduced human-carnivore conflicts, increased their sense of security living with large carnivores, and helped them learn skills and gain confidence in using mitigation tools (e.g., bear spray). 

We also evaluated temporal trends in large carnivore conflicts using provincial carnivore-human complaint data from 1999 through 2016 to identify trends in incidents (e.g., property damage, access to human food sources, kills or attempts to kill livestock or pets). We focused on incidents related to the CACP’s deadstock removal and attractant management programs and conducted a statistical analysis to evaluate whether the 2009 commencement of the CACP altered the trend in human-carnivore conflicts. The data demonstrate that both attractant and deadstock-based incidents changed from increasing to decreasing after the CACP implementation in 2009. 

Taken together, the results demonstrate the effectiveness of a contextually specific, community-based approach to addressing human-carnivore conflicts. The success of such efforts depends on reducing conflicts, engaging people in learning opportunities, and crafting innovative solutions. More broadly, our evaluation and lessons learned from implementation of the CACP provide a useful framework for addressing human-carnivore or other wildlife conflicts for conservation organizations nationally and globally.

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