Predators expand back into old range

Recent stories from the southwest corner of Alberta might foreshadow of what more ranchers will be facing in the near future.

Recent stories from the southwest corner of Alberta might foreshadow of what more ranchers will be facing in the near future.

Stories report that grizzly bears had scavenged and looted two foothill ranches. Owners had stated that this was the first time they had seen grizzlies in such numbers do so much destruction.

Bears had broken into grain bins and in one case had broken into a small abattoir on a ranch and feasted on a hanging beef carcass.

Owners had personally witnessed some of the damage done by the bears. One witness stated that he had seen a group of nine grizzlies, including males, sows and cubs, on his property foraging.

It would seem that this isn’t a case of a lone bear acting on its own, but a concerted move out of traditional grizzly bear territory. But therein lies the reality — those grizzlies were actually moving back into their original traditional range.

Past historical anecdotes reported that grizzlies were sighted as far as Manitoba in the late 1700s and were regularly killed on the western prairies as recently as the late 1800s.

Their range extended well into the American prairie west. But settlement, ranching, loss of habitat and food sources saw the grizzly disappear into high mountain refuges.

But as recent reports show, grizzlies given the opportunity have the adaptability to return to their former prairie haunts. But any extensive re-population just won’t happen.

City and town folks, for all their empathy for wildlife and the great outdoors, draw a line when it comes to having certain wild animals in their back yard.

If grizzlies confine their marauding to a few isolated ranches, I expect most folks won’t care.

But grizzlies are smart and always looking for easy pickings and it’s just a matter of time before they move into local town dumps and suburban fringes away from the foothills.

That’s when the panic will set in, being grizzlies just aren’t any old predator.

A lot of towns and citizens are familiar with black bears making a nuisance of themselves at dumps and outlying areas, but for some reason, black bears don’t strike the same amount fear in the hearts of humans as grizzlies do.

Granted, black bears appear more cuddly, less fearsome and more prone to run away than grizzlies. To us, mere humans, grizzlies are life-menacing and strike genuine fear deep into our souls, reminding us that human beings are really just another prey species.

That perspective would see a lethal response to any real advance of grizzlies moving out of their present mountain ranges into the prairies and urban areas.

Other predators have seen some expansion. Cougars regularly try to expand their range, but it’s a slow process.

The most successful of all has been the coyote, which has expanded its range far and above its original range in the southwest U.S.

Its success is the result of the removal of its traditional enemy, the prairie wolf, its adaptability to many food sources and, yes, the coyote is damn smart.

Humans have contributed to the spread of coyotes by killing the dumb ones. Plus, coyotes seem harmless, being they look like cute dogs — that hardly strikes fear into human hearts. City folks only get annoyed at coyotes in their midst when they start eating their pet cats and lap dogs.

That other well-known predator, the wolf, has a reputation for being more of a noble animal that has survived the odds. Their pack behaviour has made them easier to control and they too are confined to remote areas where they are mostly protected. There are still occasional wolf cull programs in the central and northern interior areas of B.C., when they begin to have an impact on cattle and wildlife prey numbers.

But I expect those cull programs will become fewer in number as the urban mentality of preserving that noble animal continues to grow.

There is hypocrisy in the average citizen’s mind when it comes to large predators.

As long as they are seen at a distance and are not threatening, then they need to be preserved.

That attitude doesn’t help ranchers or livestock who are more likely to be confronted with the deadly and economic impact of predation of any kind by any predator.

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