I am often asked this question when the topic of my research comes up in conversation along with “why bother?” and “who cares?”. I get it. Grizzly bears are big, scary, and intimidating. Their claws are sharp, their teeth are sharper, and they are incredibly fast and strong. They are territorial and known for aggressively defending their young. And we have all seen The Revenant where Leonardo DiCaprio gets ripped apart by a mother bear defending her cubs. They are the ultimate predator. We have every right to fear and respect them, and we should. Many people fail to see the value in conservation efforts and believe that any time or money spent supporting grizzly bear populations is a waste. However, they play a vital ecological role. Large predators help to maintain prey populations and are critical for balanced ecosystems. Omnivores, such as grizzly bears, are important for seed dispersal which helps establish vegetation. Further, grizzly bears are considered an “umbrella species”, which means that protecting them indirectly protects multiple other species. Their relatively large home ranges include numerous other species who may benefit from conservation initiatives. As a result, long-term persistence of grizzly bears, as well as other large predators, can serve as an indicator of the impact of land-use practices on wildlife populations over time (Wilkinson et al, 2008).
Sadly, grizzly bears are currently listed as “threatened” under the Alberta Wildlife Act (2010), “vulnerable” by the British Columbia Conservation Data Center (2015), and “special concern” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (2012). As of 1990, it was reported that within Canada, grizzly bears were extirpated from 24 percent of their former range, and 63 percent of the remaining habitat was considered to be either threatened or vulnerable (Banci, 1991). Historically, the limiting factors for grizzly bear populations were habitat loss due to conversion of natural lands for agriculture and unrestricted hunting, including initiatives for predator control. Today, the primary factor contributing to population reductions are anthropogenic activities, which includes road expansion, habitat modification, and habitat loss (Kansas and Festa-Bianchet, 2010). Grizzly bears are not only sensitive to human caused disturbance, but they are commonly subject to human conflict and poaching.
For me, conservation in general is important as I believe that all wildlife has value; whether it be the species themselves or their habitats. To ensure the longevity of wildlife we must maintain secure habitat. Ecosystems provide critical services to mankind including oxygen production, water filtration, carbon sequestration, recreational benefits, and provide natural resources that help fuel our economy. Moving forward, we must sustainably manage our natural resources so that future generations can benefit from ecosystem services as well.