Grizzlies Move Into Polar Bear Territory

grizzly bear denali photo
Migrated Image

In Manitoba, Canada, grizzly bears are officially listed as extirpated—a species that does not exist locally, though it is present in the wild elsewhere. With confirmed sightings in the province becoming more frequent, however, this classification may soon change.

If grizzlies become established north of Hudson Bay, researchers say, they could pose a serious threat to the region's polar bear populations.Before 1996, biologists from the American Museum of Natural History and City College of the City University of New York claim, there was no evidence of grizzly bear activity in the area—even in the long records from Hudson Bay trapping camps spanning hundreds of years. Between 1996 and 2008, however, there were nine confirmed sightings. In 2009, there were three more.

polar bear mother cubs photo

Linda Gormezano, one of the researchers studying the sightings, commented:

The opportunistic sightings seem to be increasing...this is worrying for the polar bears because grizzly bears would likely hibernate in polar bear maternity denning habitat. They would come out of hibernation at the same time and can kill polar cubs.

It was long thought that a span of relatively desolate and impassable plains separated the Hudson Bay region from the bear's normal ranges in the Rockies, the Yukon, and Nunavut. But the gap, it turns out, was navigable, and now the grizzly bears and feasting on the abundant caribou, moose, fish, and berries of Wapusk National Park.

Researchers say that they can't be certain if the bears are wandering or staying until sightings of dens and cubs and confirmed. Still, they report, the sightings are signs that grizzly bears will eventually become common in the park. Robert F. Rockwell, the projects lead researcher, added that "the Cree elders we talked to feel that now that grizzly bears have found this food source they will be staying."

The inevitable question that emerges, then, is how to deal with the conflicting bear populations. Gormezano explained:

In Canada, both the polar and grizzly bear are federally listed as species of special concern. In Manitoba, the polar bear is provincially listed as threatened while the prairie population of the grizzly bear is listed as extirpated.

These classifications will, no doubt, make crafting a conservation plan difficult.