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Waterton Lakes National Park

Wildlife - Food On The Fly

Around the time when southern Albertans think 'spring', grizzly bears emerge from their winter dens thinking 'food.' After a long winter without eating, they typically follow their noses to scavenge winter-killed carcasses of elk, moose and deer, and sometimes, domestic livestock.

A carcass, being transported to a drop site, is attached by along rope to the bottom of a helicopter Helicopter transporting a carcass © Parks Canada

Bears, already reduced in number from habitat loss and high rates of human-caused death, are under increased pressure to find enough food to survive.

When they come in contact with domestic livestock or human development, they are often trapped and removed from the region. This further reduces the area's population of bears. Once numbers are reduced, recovery is slow.

Based on a similar program in Montana, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development launched an intercept feeding program in 1999. This program involves cooperation between conservation officers, park wardens, biologists, ranchers and local road maintenance contractors.

Wildlife killed in winter road accidents are picked up and stored. In spring, the carcasses are flown in and dropped by helicopter at carefully planned locations in known spring grizzly bear range.

The idea is to 'intercept' bears by keeping them away from livestock during spring green up and calving time until other natural food sources are available.

The program extends along the front range mountains in southwestern Alberta. Its success has been measured by a significant decrease in both the number of complaints by ranchers, and the need to trap and remove bears. This is good news for both grizzly bears and livestock.

As a collaborator with this project, Waterton Lakes National Park allows intercept feeding sites within park boundaries. Care is taken to ensure public safety. Carrion is never placed near hiking trails, roads or facilities such as campgrounds and picnic areas.

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