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May 02, 2010


Jeff Gailus

Yes, Richard, it is tough to squeeze it all into a 25 minute radio interview.

You are right, there are a range of approaches, some of them tried-and-true and many of them hypothetical. As I'm sure your research indicated, managing access on complex road networks is very, very difficult. In the U.S., research and experience indicate that it's too difficult and expensive, so they don't even bother to try. They either don't build roads in the first place or they obliterate them to ensure adequate grizzly bear habitat security. Even Alberta's Fish and Wildlife Division recognizes that it is near impossible to do (see the E-8 Forest Management Plan that SRD recently drafted and approved).

This belief that we can "have our cake and eat it too" is probably misguided. It's not based on science or experience, but on an ideological belief that "natural resources must be developed because natural resources must be developed" (former SRD Minister Mike Cardinal, 2005). As one senior government official said (behind closed doors) of the impending disappearance of caribou in the tar sands region, "The bitumen is coming out of the ground, so you're going to have to figure out a way to [save caribou] with that in mind."

The same seems to go for grizzly bears, which likely will not persist where road densities are high (despite your decision tree). If it is to happen, it will take a serious government commitment, millions of dollars, and dozens (if not hundreds) of personnel to adequately and perpetually patrol the thousands of kilometres of roads that exist in grizzly bear habitat. Even if this were to happen, it wouldn't address the serious problems roads cause for such things as clean and abundant water.

As I pointed out on The Current, despite knowing about the problem for 20 years (see the 1990 Grizzly Bear Management Plan), and despite two recommendations to list the grizzly bear as threatened (see the ESCC website), the government has done very little ON THE GROUND to ensure the survival and recovery of grizzly bears in Alberta. There are lots of reports and decision trees, but there is no political will to commit to something that challenges the very heart of Tory dogma: maximize short-term economic utility.

Jeff Gailus

Jeff Gailus

One other thing I forgot to mention. Despite Jim Allen's claim that the government was ensuring road access was kept below the 0.6 km/sq. km. threshold in core areas, no less than three forest management plans that are publicly available on SRD's website (E-8, Blue Ridge Lumber, and Sundance) indicate that road densities will exceed these thresholds or mortality risk for grizzly bears will increase in these FMAs over the next 10+ years.

Perhaps what's most troubling is that only one of them even bothers to measure road density, which is the metric used in the recovery plan. The other two simply use mortality risk or safe harbour index, which are not used in the recovery plan because these tools have not been adequately developed. This does little to provide Albertans with the evidence they need to have faith in the government's commitment to implement the recovery plan.

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