Results of a new survey show the grizzly bear population in western Alberta is making a strong recovery.

The number of bears in the Foothills east of Banff and Jasper National parks has doubled over the past decade, the study by fRI Research found.

Between 2004 and 2014, the grizzly bear population in Bear Management Area (BMA) 3 — which stretches from the Banff and Jasper national park boundaries east to Drayton Valley and Rocky Mountain House between Highways 16 and 11 — has increased from an estimated 36 bears to 74.

Gordon Stenhouse, who headed up the survey, says the findings are unusual.

Growth rate increased

“Normally a bear population in North America grows at a rate of three per cent a year. That would be considered a normal growth rate. And in this case, this population has grown at a rate of about seven per cent per year.”

Grizzly bears have been listed as a threatened species in Alberta since 2010. While it’s too soon to know why the bear population is increasing, Stenhouse believes there are several factors contributing to the dramatic upturn.

“We know that we have moved a number of bears in Alberta into this population over the last 10 years, so the increase could be partly as a result of those relocated bears coming into this area. And the other part could be that we’ve managed to keep human-caused mortality rates down so that the population is growing faster than one might expect.”

Researchers also looked at the number of bears in the southern half of Jasper National Park. They counted 54 grizzlies there, for an estimated total of 113 grizzly bears in the entire park.

Researchers work with rotten cow blood

Stenhouse says counting grizzly bears is “not glamorous.”

He and his team hike out into the forest and string “corrals of barbed wire” at knee height in a grid-like pattern. In the middle of the structure, they put mix of rotten cow blood, fish oil and canola oil.

“The bears smell that scent and come and crawl under the barbed wire or go over it and leave behind their hair.”

Every 10 days, researchers collect the samples and do genetic DNA analysis on them to determine the species and gender of the animal.

Hunting moratorium

Researchers have divided the province into seven bear management areas.

“It will be important to study the effects of the hunting moratorium and the management practice of bear relocation,” the study says.

“We know that the hunting moratorium has reduced the overall human-caused bear mortality. As well, between 2000 and 2014, enforcement officers relocated about 30 bears into BMA 3.”

The study was completed by fRI Research, with funding from Weyerhaeuser, West Fraser, Alberta Environment and Parks, and Parks Canada.