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Grizzly bear response to open-pit mining in western Alberta, Canada Open Access


Other title
Ursus arctos
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Cristescu, Bogdan
Supervisor and department
Boyce, Mark (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Derocher, Andrew (Biological Sciences)
Miller, Sterling (National Wildlife Federation)
Lewis, Mark (Biological Sciences)
Stenhouse, Gordon (Foothills Research Institute)
Foote, Lee (Renewable Resources)
Department of Biological Sciences
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Industrial development is transforming Alberta's landscapes, with largely unquantified effects on wildlife species. Open-pit mining is occurring on vast expanses, most notably for bitumen but also extensively for coal in a rich seam that traverses the province. Major concerns have developed over the status of the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) in relation to this and other industrial developments, contributing to the species' listing as threatened. My objective was to assess how bears respond to mining by using Global Positioning System (GPS) data from radiocollared individuals. Using movement data in a Before-After-Control-Impact design, I found that bears used mined landscapes during and after mining, selecting undisturbed and reclaimed areas over active and inactive ones. Females with cubs had the greatest home range overlap with mines. Males moved shorter distances on/near mines following reclamation. Based on field visitation of GPS clusters I developed a multinomial model to predict bear behavioural state from GPS radiocollar data. The model had good predictive accuracy particularly for ungulate consumption. Predation is an important source of meat for grizzly bears on mined landscapes, with elk (Cervus elaphus) a major component in bear diet following reclamation. Although all ungulates except moose (Alces alces) were more likely to occur on reclaimed mines, bears consumed them primarily outside mined areas, or in undisturbed tree patches on mines. Caching of food was common, especially large-bodied prey. Dietary analysis from scat showed that bears switched their diet from predominantly ungulates in the foothills and Hedysarum spp. roots in the mountains to herbaceous vegetation sown on mines for reclamation. I propose that resting-site selection can be used as an indicator of perceived risk from human ‘predation’, and show that bears select high horizontal cover for resting, bedding more during the day in foothills with high human activity, and at night on reclaimed mines and in protected areas. Because the mines had restrictions on public access, these findings suggest that bears can persist despite landscape change because they are remarkably adaptable to disturbance and food availability. However, risk of mortality is high if bears are not protected from humans, e.g., by using access management.
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File title: Grizzly bear response to open-pit mining in western Alberta, Canada
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File author: Bogdan Cristescu
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