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Return of the Plains Grizzly

By WorldChanging Canada writer Rod Edwards.

The Grizzly bear's Latin name captures its place in popular culture: fierce symbol of untamed wilderness, Ursus arctos horribilis. Among carnivorous North American land mammals, the grizzly is second in size only to its larger cousin, the polar bear. Despite its stature, or perhaps because of it, the grizzly has long been a victim of human territorial expansion, compounded by its own reclusive nature, low birth rate, and large territorial needs. Consider: A mature male grizzly can occupy a territory up to 1800 square kilometers, and breeding pairs have litters only every three to four years with an average litter of two pups. Add to this the bear's love of solitude, and its easy to see why grizzly territory is half of its former range while contemporaries like the black bear have lost little ground at all.

Prior to the settlement of western North America, grizzly territory ranged as far east as the Manitoba/Ontario border, and south as far as northern Mexico. Currently, the 60,000 grizzlies estimated to remain in the wild range principally in British Columbia, Alaska, Northern Canada, and parts of the Northwestern US—a territory that assiduously avoids human populations.

There are signs, however, that grizzlies are slowly reoccupying their former lands. A recent Winnipeg Free Press article by Martin Zeilig reported on sightings by Conservation officers: conducting helicopter surveys of polar bear populations, officers have sighted large, healthy grizzlies regularly over the past few years. The year-to-year persistence of the bears, and the fact that several unique bears have been identified, suggest that bears are in fact permanent inhabitants of the region, not just transients. That would make these grizzlies the first verified permanent residents of Manitoba in over 150 years—and would mark the return of the Plains Grizzly.

Unfortunately, I can't share why the grizzlies have returned. Is it a case of better conservation efforts in the north making former habitats welcoming again? Or, are grizzly populations being put under stress elsewhere (oil sands development in northern Alberta, for instance), driving them back into formerly marginalized territory? I've put a call into Dr. Robert Wrigley, curator of the Winnipeg Zoo, who was quoted in the Free Press Article. I'll comment with any updates.

"Grizzlies make home in Manitoba," Martin Zeilig, The Winnipeg Free Press, August 10, 2008. (Not available online).

Inside Image Credit: Dustie

Article from WorldChanging Canada

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