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BLOOMBERG: Alberta Bans Grizzly Bear Hunt as Oil, Logging Erode Habitat

April 6 (Bloomberg) — Barry Voogd will never forget the spring morning five years ago when he spotted a 350-pound grizzly bear in a field of oats in northwestern Alberta. He felt a rush of adrenaline as he raised his .338 Winchester Magnum rifle and fired, bagging his first grizzly.
“It was almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience,'' said Voogd, 42, who has been hunting in western Canada for more than 20 years.
Voogd may not get another chance. The Alberta government canceled the annual grizzly hunt, scheduled to begin this week, while it conducts a three-year study to determine how many of the bears are left in the province.
A surge in oil and gas drilling by companies such as Shell Canada Ltd., along with logging, a construction boom and agriculture, have reduced the bears' habitat by two-thirds in the past century, to about 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles).
“The biggest source for the loss of habitat is industry,'' said Tracey Henderson, program director for the Canmore, Alberta-based Grizzly Bear Alliance.
Near-record oil prices prompted companies to drill 16,911 wells in the province last year, almost four times more than in 1983, according to the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors.
Drillers are scooping up land at a record pace in Alberta. which produces 70 percent of Canada's oil output. Companies bought the rights to oil and gas developments on as much as 3.86 million hectares (9.55 million acres) in the past 12 months, according to Alberta's Energy Department.
Opposing Sides
The eroding habitat and declining bear population led to the province's first hunting ban, drawing praise from animal rights groups and angering hunters such as Voogd. Hunting accounted for almost half of all bear deaths directly caused by humans last year, according to the Alberta government.
“Once the hunt is taken away from the public, it's very hard to get it back,'' said Voogd, an electrician who displays his grizzly, standing on all fours, in the living room of his Edmonton home.
For decades, Alberta allowed limited hunting of grizzlies, the second-largest member of the bear family after polar bears. Last year, 2,800 people applied to hunt grizzlies, and 73 were issued permits. Ten animals were killed.
“We're dismayed with the government's decision because stopping the hunt isn't going to save the grizzly at all,'' said Martin Sharren, executive vice president of the Alberta Fish & Game Association hunting lobby. It estimates that the province has about 100,000 hunters.
Declining Number
The Grizzly Bear Alliance estimates that grizzlies in Alberta have dwindled to as few as 700, from a peak of 9,000 about 200 years ago. Hunters including Voogd contend that the current population is bigger. The government hasn't released an estimate, pending the results of its study.
The grizzly, or ursus arctos horribilis, stands out among bears. A hump between the shoulder blades distinguishes it from the more common black bear. The fur ranges from blond to brown to black, and males weigh as much as 680 kilograms (1,500 pounds). Even at that size, the bears can run as fast as 56 kilometers (35 miles) an hour, outpacing a horse over short distances.
While the grizzly is equipped with long claws to dig up roots and bulbs, they're rarely used to attack humans. Since 1998, grizzlies have mauled eight people and killed two in Alberta, government figures show.
Other Homes
Neighboring British Columbia has almost 17,000 grizzlies, roaming an area four times the size of the habitat in Alberta. In 2003, about 231 were taken by hunters in British Columbia, and hunting continues this year.
In the U.S., the number of grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park, mostly in Wyoming, rose to more than 580 in 2004 from as low as 136 in 1975, according to the Interior Department. Hunting is illegal in U.S. and Canadian national parks.
“Alberta has really stepped out of the dark ages,'' Defenders of Wildlife Canada executive director Jim Pissot, 57, said in a telephone interview. “It has finally admitted that grizzly bears are in trouble.''
Alberta hasn't declared the grizzly “threatened,'' as the province's Endangered Species Conservation Committee proposed in 2002. The federal government that year said Canada's grizzlies are a “species at risk,'' meaning they could become threatened or endangered.
“We should be talking about sustainability rather than designating the threatened status'' to the bears, said David Coutts, Alberta's minister for sustainable resource development, at a news conference last month.
Saving Habitat
Oil companies are trying to help preserve the grizzly's habitat. Talisman Energy Inc.; Shell Canada, which is controlled by Royal Dutch Shell Plc; Suncor Energy Inc.; and pipeline owner TransCanada Corp. have supported wildlife research studies that included grizzly bear habitat. Shell Canada is blocking public access to its service roads after the company has left an area.
Voogd, meanwhile, says he will hunt black bears instead, with his daughter Heidi, 15, and son Derrick, 14.
“My son will probably hunt black bear for the first time this spring,'' he said. “The whole family goes. It's a weeklong camping trip with the hunt mixed in.''
To contact the reporter responsible for this story: Sonja
Franklin in Calgary at

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