Urban expansion, agriculture, logging, mining, hydroelectric development, oil and gas exploration and increased recreational use of the back country have all caused a loss of the grizzly habitat and have placed these magnificent creatures at risk. Habitat loss has a most devastating effect on the grizzly because of two factors: they require a home range up to several hundred square kilometres and they have a very slow reproductive rate.
In the US, it is estimated that fewer than 1000 grizzlies still survive in a habitat reduced by 99% due to human encroachment. In Canada, their habitat is either lost (24%), threatened or at risk. BC's wilderness already has approximately 200 000 kilometres of roads that increase access to hunters along the bears' travel routes.
North American Grizzly Bear.
In alpine and sub-alpine areas, increased cattle grazing within prime bear habitat disrupts their spring and fall feeding sites. Oil and gas exploration involves surface trenching, access roads, seismic lines and transmission lines; in northwestern BC, for example, 13 000 square kilometres of seismic lines and transmission lines led to the extirpation of grizzlies from the Sikanni-Beaton Plateau.
Damage to river ecosystems by hydroelectric dams and to prime habitat by ski resorts and snowmobile and ATV trails is irreparable. Coastal bears are highly dependent on old-growth forests - the same areas most valued by the logging industry. Logging has also been cited as the cause of the loss of 140 wild salmon stocks and the presently at risk designation of 624 others, the most critical food source for the coastal bears. Most types of human progress tends to silt the rivers, create noise that alters the bears' behaviour and produce roads that lead to bear/vehicle fatalities when bears are attracted to the berries and shoots that spring up in the cleared spaces.
In British Columbia, the population of grizzly bears, Canada's largest carnivore, is as low as 4000 or as high as 13 000. Although they are now extirpated in former habitats such as the Peace Lowland and Georgia Depression and rare in the southern interior, Canada still represents the last country in which bears survive in any significant numbers. Their diet ranges from grass and roots through wild berries, insects, fish and other animals. Coastal bears are great fishers and make salmon the mainstay of their diet. The reproduction rate of a grizzly is one of the slowest of any land animal in North America.
Females are not ready to bear young until they are 5 to 8 years old and males may not mature until age ten. Females average fewer than one cub per year. The cubs, born blind and defenseless while the mother is still hibernating, are about the size of a kitten and they must remain under the mother's protection for two years.
Females require a home range of no less than 27 square kilometres while the male may need as much as 1,350 square kilometres of pristine wilderness. Habitats may be mountainous areas, salmon estuaries of BC, or the treeless tundra of the Northwest Territories. The natural life span of wild bears can be 25 years or more. Thousands of peaceful human/bear encounters occur every year - in fact only 16 fatal attacks have been recorded in BC over the last 20 years. Although there were more deaths from spider bites, if one is ever in the vicinity of a 700 kilogram bear, standing at 2.6 metres and capable of reaching speeds close to 50 kilometres an hour, there is comfort in knowing that bears instinctively retreat from any human contact.
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