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Canada’s grizzly bears are being threatened by new roads, study says

Parts of rural B.C. are already considering road closures in light of new data, scientists say.
Canadian Press

There's a fairly straight forward way to protect Canada’s iconic grizzly bears, said a study published Tuesday: keep them away from humans.

Increased road construction through grizzly habitats in British Columbia, in particular, has affected bear populations, and reducing the number of roads is an effective way for rebuilding their numbers, said the study from University of Alberta scientists.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, drew its not-so-surprising conclusion by analyzing long-term datasets of grizzly bear DNA from B.C.

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"Grizzly bears are recovering in a lot of areas, but habitat loss and human-bear conflict remain huge problems that can compromise recovery," said University of Alberta biologist Clayton Lamb.

"Not only do bears die near roads, bears also avoid these areas, making many habitats with roads through them less effective," Lamb said in a statement following the publication of the first study, which strongly linked road construction to a drop in grizzly bear population density.

“Current road densities in British Columbia represent a problem for bear conservation. We are losing wilderness in the province, and there are fewer grizzly bears where road densities are high,” Lamb continued. “We can't turn roads back into forest tomorrow, so the best thing we can do right now is to close them. The effects are immediate."

He says governments across North America should close some roads and institute better land management planning to preserve the bears' wilderness habitat.

In parts of B.C.’s Monashee Mountains, just east of the Okanagan where the study took place, authorities are already considering closing some roads to keep space for bears in light of the study, the University of Alberta said in a statement.