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Bears in the Canadian Rockies May Be Fighting a Losing Battle

Grizzlies are being edged out by human developments

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CANADA'S grizzly bears have an image problem. They grow up to eight feet tall and more than 1,000 pounds, have large teeth, and their scientific name - Ursus arctos horribilis - doesn't help.

But intimidating as they are, grizzlies are on the run - from humans. Scientists say grizzly-bear populations are threatened throughout the southern Canadian Rocky Mountains and even inside Banff National Park, Canada's most famous.

Under pressure from hunting, oil drilling, logging, and resort developments, grizzly populations are declining mainly because their habitat is being chopped down, paved over, or otherwise disrupted by human activities. Biologists say the process of disrupting bear living space with ``an overwhelming human presence'' is so advanced it may eliminate grizzlies from the southern Canadian Rockies - and even one of the grizzlies' last strongholds - the national parks.

``The situation is dire,'' says Michael Gibeau, a Banff park biologist and warden who is studying grizzly populations. ``These bears need `core' refuges - areas where they won't constantly run into people. Banff is supposed to be one of those. But I think within the next five to 10 years, we'll seal the fate of grizzlies in the park.''

Part of the problem is that grizzlies require lots of room to roam. A male grizzly needs up to 1,000 square kilometers (385 square miles) of running room to find the food it needs. But as oil and gas exploration pushes into the last mountainous wild areas of Alberta and British Columbia, grizzlies are caught between invading industry outside the parks and hordes of people inside them. This is particularly true of four adjacent Canadian national parks - Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay.

``There is growing human pressure inside the national parks at the very time that pressure is increasing outside the parks,'' says Dr. Stephen Herrero, a University of Calgary biologist and grizzly expert. ``Here in Alberta and in British Columbia, even critical wildlife areas are being squeezed for every dollar they can provide.''

Banff National Park is 2,560 square miles of snow-capped peaks and forested mountain valleys. People love the park, and they are loving its animal populations, including its grizzlies, to death.


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