(UR) Elk Valley, British Columbia — Nature is a system — when an aspect of that system changes, it leaves room for other parts of it to move in, or alter, depending on what has changed. In British Columbia’s Elk Valley, it is the very dynamism that is causing an increase in human-related deaths among local Grizzly Bear populations. The Elk Valley is home to a large number of Grizzly Bears, and while their actual numbers are not specifically known, a new study shows that more than half die due to vehicle collisions.
In what is being called “an ‘ecological trap,’” highways that pass through Elk Valley have been increasingly implicated in bear mortality in the region. Problematically, the study says, is the way Grizzly Bears respond to changes in their population density. As more of the bears die, the motivation for other bears to move into the region is increased. This is because Grizzlies are primarily solitary animals that are particularly territorial, and they tend to move into regions vacated by other bears. Sadly, more and more bears move into the dangerous area the more that die on British Columbian highways.
Part of the reason for the high number of collision fatalities is the increasing number of people visiting Elk Valley, particularly the ski resort town of Fernie. According to a provincial government announcement last month, Fernie and the Elk Valley will more than likely continue this trend for the foreseeable future, inviting more people to visit the region as tourism infrastructure is improved and expanded. Development of this kind will more than likely see the numbers of bear deaths hold steady, if not increase.
Aside from increased road traffic, and, specifically implicated in the study, are the modifications humans are making to the land. One of the major draws for the bears to wander out of the backcountry and into the more developed areas are the ways these human environments have altered the prevalence of berry crops. Berries are a “critical food” for bears, and in the areas cleared for golf courses and residences these small fruits grow much more plentifully than in the highlands where the bears normally make their homes, drawing them into conflict with local human traffic.
Given that the bears are looking for a food made abundant by human alterations, it is questionable whether time-tested methods of preventing vehicle-related deaths will have a serious affect. Methods like the creation of wildlife corridors may not help since the bears are leaving relatively safe habitat in order to secure a more available food supply. Constructing wildlife crossings, on the other hand, might go a long way to keeping more of the bears off of the highways and railways that are so heavily implicated in the study.
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