‘More than we expected’: Grizzly bear sightings have spiked in Manitoba since 1980: report

Grizzly bears are being spotted with more frequency in northern Manitoba, according to new research.

The research, recently published in the academic journal Arctic, details how grizzly bear sightings have increased in the past four decades.

Doug Clark, associate professor with the school of environment and sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, was one of the contributors to the research.

“We were stunned,” he told CTV News on Tuesday. “When we pulled all of the numbers together, we thought, ‘Wow, maybe we’ll crack 100 (observations),’ but we ended up with 160 observations.”

“That’s an awful lot more than we expected.”

CONFIRMED BEAR SIGHTINGS

The report tracked sightings of grizzly bears in northern Manitoba since the 1980s, saying the numbers have been more than doubling in every decade since the 1980s. Of the 160 observations, 133 of the sightings have been confirmed.

According to the report, there were two confirmed observances in the 1980s, five in the 1990s, 18 in the 2000s, 103 in the 2010s, and five in 2020. Observation work was halted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions.

Clark added the research was also able to confirm, with the help of oral histories and Hudson’s Bay Company trade records, that grizzly bears have been around in northern Manitoba before.

“Seeing them this frequently is new, because the old records were extremely sparse,” he said. “They were historically present in the province, but really rare.”

Clark said the bears are likely coming from Nunavut or the Northwest Territories, where an established population lives, and they are mainly spotted on the coast of Hudson Bay. He added there have been some sightings inland near the Saskatchewan border and as far south as Nelson River.

As for the reason they are travelling into northern Manitoba, Clark said more research needs to be done, but he suspects bears are searching for a food source.

“Whatever is changing, it’s creating opportunities for grizzly bears to feed,” he said.

Grizzly bears in Manitoba are currently listed as extirpated, meaning they’re considered extinct within the province’s boundaries. Clark said the standard for changing the listing is evidence of breeding in the province. He said someone on the team did see a family group of a mother with cubs, but said the observation is considered unconfirmed, noting there is no photo.

“I’d be really surprised if Grizzlies aren’t breeding in northern Manitoba, given the number in the space that these observations have been made over,” he said. “But until there is a photo, or until there are multiple observers seeing it all at once, the status is probably going to stay as it is.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Manitoba’s Fish and Wildlife branch said it is aware of Clark’s research. They added the department receives a few reports of grizzly bear sightings along the Hudson Bay coastline and inland each year, and staff members also occasionally see the bears during routine fieldwork.

“The department will continue to monitor sightings of grizzly bears in the area and information provided by researchers, but to date, there have been no confirmed occurrences of breeding in Manitoba,” the spokesperson said.

The province added it is illegal to kill grizzly bears in Manitoba, but said to avoid the risk of negative encounters, people are advised to secure attractants, make noise when active in wilderness areas, carry deterrents, and keep dogs on a leash.

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