A Review of Food Security for Grizzly Bears in British Columbia

March 09, 2018

We are pleased to announce the completion of a wonderful new study for Grizzly Bear Foundation that further defines the topic of food security for grizzly bears in British Columbia.

What is food security?
Consider food security from your own point of view: imagine you’re hungry in your own home. Do you have food in the house? Is that food going to give you the nutrients you need to survive until tomorrow? Can you reach it? If not, perhaps there’s a store nearby that you can get groceries at. Will it have sufficient stock of items that suit your diet? Will it be open when you need it to be? Can you get yourself there safely? These are all questions we must ask when considering food security.

Food security for grizzly bears is not just about having enough food resources; it’s a complex issue that is linked to other factors such as habitat connectivity, security areas, and human interaction.

The recently commissioned Review of Food Security for Grizzly Bears in British Columbia, written by Lana M. Ciarniello, Ph.D., RPBio, of Aklak Wildlife Consulting, points to two major factors of food security for grizzly bears:

  1. Sufficient food quality and quantity is needed to drive sustainable reproduction, and  
  2. Quality food must be available, accessible, and free from threat.

The link between reproduction and quality food supply
Grizzly bears are extremely slow reproducers, and one of the major reasons is diet. Females are delayed implanters, which means that while impregnation generally takes place in the spring, embryonic development only occurs if the mother has enough fat to sustain both herself and her offspring prior to hibernation in the autumn. Because reproduction is so closely linked to adequate food supply, it’s clear that in order to safeguard the species and re-establish declining populations we must ensure there is enough high quality food to do so.

Quality food must be available, accessible, and free from threat
It seems obvious that food must be available in order to be eaten. However, it's important to consider that almost all of the grizzly bear food sources identified in British Columbia (berries, salmon, terrestrial meat, whitebark pine seeds, and grasses and sedges) are subject to ‘pulses’ - that is, times when they’re highly available and times when they’re not. This is why habitat connectivity is so important: grizzly bears need to be able to safely move from one area to another in order to access their food sources, and this will gain importance as our ecosystems react to climate change and increasingly human-modified landscapes.

Food sources must also be free from threat. This means both that bears must safely be able to reach their food sources, without the possibility of negative human interaction, and that the food sources themselves cannot be at risk of decline. A good example of this is salmon - salmon stocks are a current concern, and because bears and people both rely on productive salmon runs, the competition could endanger the bears.

How do we ensure food security for grizzly bears?
The Review of Food Security for Grizzly Bears in British Columbia makes it evident that more research needs to be done into individual food sources as well methods of access so we can better inform grizzly bear conservation plans.

While there are parts of British Columbia in which grizzly bear populations are thriving, there is no doubt that there are areas of the province in which the population is declining and the species is at risk. Ensuring sufficient accessible, threat-free food is available for these populations will help to safeguard the species. Providing food security will mitigate human interaction and ensure the species is fit and secure enough to continue to play their role in maintaining a healthy and diverse ecosystem.

To read the full technical report, click here.

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