All Photos in this Blog were taken by Arthur F. Sniegon

PROJECT RATIONALE: Although the internationally acknowledged impacts of biodiversity losses are global, successful actions to counteract ecosystem degradation and restore biodiversity must be taken locally. Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change, therefore a 21st century approach to wilderness and wildlife conservation must replace demonstrably outdated 19th century wildlife management practices that have contributed significantly towards catastrophic and international loss of indigenous wildlife.

This project: ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION THROUGH RETURNING WILD ORPHANS TO THE WILD demonstrates a collaborative 21st century approach and is made up of three parts (1) biosocial conservation (2) Construction of an enclosure specifically designed to rear orphaned Grizzly bear cubs (At Risk, Threatened) for release back into their historic habitat (3) evaluation of the use of non-intrusive post release monitoring methods. 

The success of this project: ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION THROUGH RETURNING WILD ORPHANS TO THE WILD will provide a template for other similar ecosystem restoration projects essential to restore at risk environments.

WHY? Since the 1950’s along the eastern foothills of the North American Rocky Mountains human caused habitat transformation, harvest and industrial development have caused significant loss of biodiversity. Annually indigenous wild species, essential to the continued health of the ecosystem, are killed and their offspring orphaned through the human actions that occur not only during the normal course of wildlife harvest but also through the unintended effects on wildlife habitat of increased development, habitat degradation and climate changes.

On the other side of the coin, for the past 40 years in jurisdictions worldwide, it has been human action which has rescued indigenous wild orphans and successfully returned them to their native habitat in the wild (RE-WILDING). Although such conservation actions are recognized as an integral part of ecosystem restoration in many jurisdictions this 21st century approach to ecosystem restoration through re-wilding is not yet accepted by all. As the Alberta Government has no Mandate nor funding to undertake wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release this conservation action is undertaken by Non Government Organizations, NGO, at no cost to government but under government issued permit.

In Alberta, particularly hard hit by the current government policy decision to deny rescue, rehabilitation and release back into the wild of a wide spectrum of iconic indigenous species, are those species on this list:

(http://aep.alberta.ca/fishwildlife/wildlife-management/default.aspx.

It is key for the future of our wilderness and wildlife that maintenance of threatened indigenous wild populations be enhanced through the successful return to the wild of indigenous orphaned wildlife. International experience has proven that it is much more expensive to reintroduce an extirpated indigenous species than it is to ensure that a wild population does not become extirpated and the rescue, rearing and return of orphaned indigenous wild species contributes towards maintain the goal of population enhancement.

Currently, orphaned Grizzly bear cubs, an endangered species are required to be killed at public expense following a 2010 Policy decision made by Alberta Environment and Parks, AEP. The Cochrane Ecological institute’s project ECOSYSTEM  RESTORATION THROUGH RETURNING WILD INDIGENOUS ORPHANS TO THE WILD (RE-WILDING) is designed to develop a collaborative and successful approach toward ecosystem restoration through the enhancement of indigenous wild populations by rescuing, rearing, and returning orphaned indigenous animals to the wild.

The concept of the enhancement of dwindling wildlife populations through the translocation and release of adult animals into those populations is accepted throughout North America and has been addressed by government agencies with varying levels of success. Concurrently, since the 1960’s, the rescue and return to the wild of indigenous orphaned wildlife, umbrella species and key predators, has been shown to be successful. In the case of bear species reintroduction of orphaned or captive bred juveniles is a successful conservation action undertaken in counties with endangered bear species, including European Brown bears (Bulgaria, Romania, Russia).

Alberta is the only jurisdiction in North America with a list of orphaned indigenous wild species prohibited from rescue, rearing, and re-wilding.

As result of this prohibition, on this File, Alberta Environment and Parks, AEP’s 21st Century policy action has been twofold:

  1. Euthanasia by Conservation Officers for the orphans of grizzly bears (an endangered species),Black bear cubs (even though there are approved facilities for black bear cubs), Bighorn sheep, Mountain goat, wolf, coyote, cougar, raccoon
  2.  Due to a lack of approved AEP written species specific protocols, the abandonment, where orphaned, of pronghorn young, elk calves, fox kits, lynx and bobcat kittens (Wildlife Response Guidelines, AEP website and Schedule A attached to Wildlife Rehabilitation permits).

It should be noted that all of the above species have been successfully reared and released in North America.

The rationale for the Alberta government’s authorized euthanasia by provincial civil servants (AEP or F&WB) of orphaned Grizzly bear cubs is in part based upon the AEP perception that for the Grizzly bear population as a whole the individual is unimportant even though Alberta’s estimated population of Grizzly bears numbers 691 (populations of under 1,000 breeding individuals are deemed to be Endangered by World Conservation Union).

Also, the Alberta Government’s decision to kill endangered orphaned Grizzly bear cubs is based upon the following:

  1. Alberta has no facility capable of accepting, rearing and returning grizzly bear cubs to the wild. The CEI has committed funding from Wild Aid Canada Society to fund the construction of this facility to rear orphaned Grizzly bear cubs for return to the wild (re-wilding)
  2. No research in Alberta has demonstrated if or if not re-wilding orphaned Grizzly bear cubs is a valid conservation action,(there is a wealth of research and published papers proving that the rescue of orphaned  cubs and their return to the wild is a viable conservation action) and
  3. The strong belief that widespread anxiety exists amongst various Albertan stakeholders about the concept of re-wilding through returning orphaned indigenous wildlife, keystone species (bear) and other apex predators to their native habitat.

In an attempt to respond to this policy of AEP the Cochrane Ecological Institute has developed a three part project ECOSYSTEM  RESTORATION THROUGH RETURNING WILD INDIGENOUS ORPHANS TO THE WILD (RE-WILDING) designed to address the AEP concerns (1, 2, and 3) and current information gaps.

Initial information gap: as yet, no study has been undertaken to verify if, or if not, the concerns of AEP are valid ones. If these concerns are not valid then these orphans are being killed or abandoned unnecessarily. Nor has AEP as yet developed any strategy relating to and including people who may be directly and/or indirectly affected by a return to their indigenous habitat of these keystone species and apex predators.

 A way to avoid generalizing society’s positions towards indigenous species conservation can be achieved by accessing methods used by social scientists, which means going out and talking to the people on the land and finding out what their opinions actually are. Not a Questionnaire, an actual conversation. This 21st Century approach to wildlife management is known as biosocial conservationism and is a completely new, and very successful, method of discovering the importance of ecosystem restoration through the return of orphaned indigenous to their wild habitat and to the people sharing that habitat. Biosocial conservationism has never been attempted before in Alberta. We hope to at least lay the groundwork for such a study in biosocial conservation Aspect 1 of our project.

The construction of the Grizzly Bear Cub Rehabilitation Facility started in April of this year and is scheduled to finish in early summer.  That story is the subject of the second post in this series.