Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Canadian Grizzly Bear Added To Species At Risk List

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) held their spring species assessment meeting last week in the Kananaskis Valley of Alberta.  The committee considered the status of 35 wildlife species, including our iconic grizzly bear.

Grizzly Bear Ursus arctos  

Western population

The global distribution of this large-bodied carnivore has declined by over 50% since the 1800s, with western Canada representing a significant core of the current North American range. A habitat generalist, its distribution and abundance in the absence of humans is largely driven by habitat productivity and seasonality. It is highly sensitive to human disturbance and is subject to high mortality risk in areas of human activity and where roads create access.

Population estimates in much of the range are highly uncertain; the Canadian population is estimated at 26,000, but the number of mature individuals is uncertain and could be closer to 10,000. While there is no evidence of a decline in the overall population during the past 20 years and increasing numbers of records indicating some range expansion in the north, a number of populations in the southern extent of its range in Alberta and southern BC are known to be declining and there are concerns about unsustainable mortality rates there and in parts of Yukon.

There is strong evidence of genetic fragmentation in the southern parts of its range where some populations are increasingly isolated. Their poor condition in some parts of the range, combined with their naturally low reproductive rates and increasing pressures of resource extraction in currently intact parts of the range, heighten concern for this species if such pressures are not successfully reversed.

Status History
The species was considered a single unit and designated Not at Risk in April 1979. Split into two populations in April 1991 (Prairie population and Northwestern population). The Prairie population was designated Extirpated in April 1991.  The Northwestern population was designated Special Concern in April 1991 and confirmed in May 2002. In May 2012, the entire species was re-examined and the Prairie and Northwestern populations were again considered a single unit. This newly-defined Western population was designated Special Concern in May 2012.

COSEWIC is a committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in danger of disappearing from Canada. The process is divided into three sequential steps, each of which has a tangible outcome. The steps are outlined briefly below, and more detail is provided on the web page detailing COSEWIC’s assessment process.

  • selection of wildlife species requiring assessment – the COSEWIC Candidate List
  • compilation of available data, knowledge and information – the COSEWIC status report; and
  • assessment of a wildlife species’ risk of extinction or extirpation and subsequent designation – the record of COSEWIC assessment results

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