Should We Be Worried About Canadian Grizzlies?


There’s been a lot of talk this week about a sudden salmon shortage in Canada, and how it could affect grizzly bear populations:

“What we are learning now from the people on the ground there that are walking those streams … is that the chum [salmon] aren’t there … and the bears aren’t there,” said [David Suzuki Foundation biologist Jeff] Young.

This year has seen a virtual collapse of the sockeye stocks in B.C. Earlier this summer, Fisheries officials confirmed the Fraser River sockeye run was down nine million fish from predicted returns, and northern runs have seen similar declines.

But one National Wildlife Federation expert says grizzlies are resilient and will be able to find other food sources:

“The likelihood that you have adult bears starving to death as a consequence of a decline in a single food source is very small,” Sterling Miller, senior biologist with the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, said in an interview Wednesday.

“I don’t believe it’s credible from the evidence that I see quoted . . . that there’s any reason to be concerned about the population of adult bears.

Sterling’s analysis would explain why people aren’t seeing bears in their usual riverside spots. And when you think about it from the bear’s perspective, it makes sense. Why would they bother to hang out near rivers with few salmon? Might as well go check out those berry bushes instead. (Update 12:36pm: As Sterling put it to me in an email just now, “Bears go where the food IS, not to where it ISN’T.”)

In the long run though, less food means a lower density of bears. We’ll keep an eye on this story and let you know if the evidence backs up the anecdotal reports.

Photo via Flickr’s NaturalLight

Published: September 11, 2009