Moratorium on motorized access necessary for grizzly survival

CALGARY -  Industrial and public motorized access routes in grizzly bear habitat greatly exceed thresholds recommended in the Alberta government’s official Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. This issue is so critical that several Alberta Conservation organizations are calling for an immediate moratorium on new roads.

“Now that grizzly hunting is on hold, the primary cause of bear deaths is too much contact between bears and people due to motorized access into their habitat,” says Wendy Francis, Program Director for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y). “Reducing this access will benefit not only grizzlies, but also source water quality and other species at risk,” she adds.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development is more than two years behind on putting in place the motorized access guidelines specified in the Recovery Plan. Recommended to be in place by end of 2009, motorized density thresholds are set below 0.6 km/km2 in core grizzly bear habitat, and below 1.2km/km2 in the remainder.

“The government’s management of access routes is so flawed that the goals of the recovery plan are unachievable without a completely new approach to road and motorized trail approvals,” says Nigel Douglas, Conservation Specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. “In the meantime, if we are serious about grizzly bear recovery, the only responsible action is to halt new road and trail building until thresholds defined in the Recovery Plan are met.”

The groups are basing their position on the Recovery Plan and two recent studies that calculated linear access densities (i.e., roads, trails, cut lines etc. accessible to off highway vehicles (OHVs)) much higher than the thresholds recommended for grizzly bear recovery. In the Castle watershed, identified as core grizzly bear habitat, linear access densities were double and sometimes triple the threshold. The Ghost watershed has a linear access density of 5km/km2, four times higher than the recommended threshold for non-core grizzly range.

"At these densities, an average person hiking cross-country can travel only for an hour or less before encountering a route used by some type of vehicle,” explains Dianne Pachal with Sierra Club Canada’s Action Grizzly Bear. “Just think of how hard it is for bears trying to avoid people and to take in enough food to survive the upcoming hibernation," she suggests.

Both reports also found evidence of a gross disregard of access closures by OHV users. “In the Castle watershed, 93% of routes not authorized for motorized access showed evidence of recent use,” notes Sarah Elmeligi, Senior Conservation Planner for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-Southern Alberta Chapter (CPAWS). “And in the Ghost, only 7% of the trails are open for motorized recreation but 93% them show recent OHV use,” she adds.

“New enforcement regulations recently passed under the Public Lands Act are helpful, but only if they’re used to reduce access on the ground,” adds Pachal. “Similar regulations previously available for much of the core habitat weren’t put to use for recovery,” she notes.

For more information contact:

  • Wendy Francis, Program Director, Y2Y, 403.763.8633
  • Dianne Pachal, Alberta Wild Director, Sierra Club of Canada, 403.234.7368
  • Sarah Elmeligi, Senior Conservation Planner, CPAWS-Southern Alberta, 403.688.8641
  • Nigel Douglas, Conservation Specialist, Alberta Wilderness Association, 403.283.2025