Grizzly Bear Conservation - The Foothills Model Forest Grizzly Bear Project
By Charlene Easton, Vancouver
Grizzly bears are one of the symbols of the Canadian wilderness, and their populations are significant in the Alberta foothills. Since 1999, Elk Valley Coal Corporation, Cardinal River Operations (CRO) has supported and participated in a major ground-breaking study, the Foothills Model Forest Grizzly Bear Research Project. This project studied grizzly bears in a 10,000 square kilometre area that included the CRO. The research has provided valuable knowledge on how grizzly bears use the landscape, for use by land and resource managers to ensure the long-term conservation of foothill grizzly bears. CRO is now using this scientific information to guide its planning and management activities to protect this important carnivore.
If not for the collective efforts of industry, government and biologists, many ecological facts now known about this important Canadian species, and many of the significant findings for both land and wildlife management, may not not have come to light.
During the program’s first five years the research resulted in the development of:
- new remote sensing tools and procedures allowing the creation of grizzly bear habitat maps;
- new resource selection function (RSF) models that build on habitat maps to identify important grizzly bear habitats on the landscape;
- new models, using graph theory analysis, to identify grizzly bear movement corridors across the landscape;
- new techniques to monitor and assess grizzly bear health;
- advancement in the area of grizzly bear DNA census techniques to enhance our ability to monitor grizzly bear population status over time;
- new procedures and techniques for the capture and handling of grizzly bears for research and management purposes; and
- evidence that most bear deaths in the study area are caused by humans and are usually close to roads and are often poaching related.
Further summaries of these studies and their major findings are available at Foothills Model Forest Grizzly Bear Research Project.
Cardinal River Grizzly Bear Conservation
Between 1999 and 2004, 30 grizzly bears' annual home ranges were identified that overlap or border the Cheviot project area. No den sites were located in the Cheviot Mine permit area, but 10 dens were located in the Foothills Model Forest Grizzly Bear Research Project study area, most commonly in the steep eastern slopes at high elevations.
As of November 2005, there had been no grizzly bear mortalities due to mining or hauling activities related to the Cheviot project. One death occurred in 2002 due to poaching. In 30 years, no grizzly bear mortality occurred as a direct result of mining activity at CRO.
CRO has already made several modifications to its mining actitivities based on project research findings in an effort to contribute to grizzly bear conservation. These actions include:
- minimizing the overall disturbance footprint;
- considering grizzly bear movements through modelling and monitoring in mine and reclamation planning;
- adjusting mining sequences where feasible to facilitate earlier reclamation activities and reduce the amount of time land is not available for wildlife use;
- leaving patches of undisturbed forest within the mine landscape wherever possible (large patches have been designated within the Cheviot pit footprint);
- revising reclamation programs to incorporate vegetation species favorable to grizzly bears and their prey; and
- searching for and mapping grizzly bear dens within areas planned for disturbance in early November of each year to avoid den disturbance during actual denning season.
Through the development and implementation of the haul road, CRO has implemented several strategies and activities to mitigate potential harm to the carnivore population. These include:
- posting maximum speed limits and wildlife warning signs;
- building full-span crossings of Prospect and Whitehorse creeks;
- creating a Carnivore Observation Program and using radio communication procedures to alert employees about the presence of carnivores in their work area;
- creating and implementing a wildlife/bear awareness program for all Cardinal River employees, with a special emphasis on employees that routinely travel on the haul road;
- dxcluding public use of mine and haul road areas to reduce potential conflict between the public and wildlife; and
- implementing a bear-sensitive waste management program.
In addition, increased employee presence along the haul road reduces the opportunity for poaching in that area.
Gaining a better understanding of grizzly bear response to mining activities is important as this information can be shared with other active and planned mining operations that are taking place in grizzly bear habitat throughout North America. Through the use of adaptive management principles, resource managers can integrate the needs of grizzly bears into mining plans.
For further information on CRO’s environment programs, please visit the Coal Operations section or contact:
Marc Symbaluk, P.Ag.
Senior Environmental Officer
Cardinal River Operations
Bag Service 2570