Given the significant number of interactions between humans and bears witnessed in the province this autumn, the ex-human-wildlife conflict specialist of Alberta is urging the province to appoint a replacement for the position he vacated last year.
Jay Honeyman retired in spring 2022, after a decade spent working as the province’s only large carnivore conflict biologist — primarily dealing with grizzly bears.
Honeyman expressed that his role involved being proactive and aiming to prevent conflicts between humans and bears. This was accomplished through various methods such as educating people and ensuring the removal or proper securing of attractants like food sources on both public and private properties.
Honeyman stated that the objective is to enhance the peaceful coexistence of humans and bears, as well as promote greater acceptance of grizzly bears in Alberta.
As of today, Honeyman’s post remains vacant.
“Bottom line, there is no dedicated position to doing this kind of work and bears and people are interacting more than ever and it’s not going to change. It’s going to continue to be an ongoing issue,” said Honeyman, whose regional role covered the Rocky Mountain House area down to the Montana border.
Honeyman also mentioned that individuals residing and working in regions inhabited by bears should have a sense of security. However, it becomes challenging to attain this when there is a lack of efforts to prevent bears from damaging properties or posing threats to public safety.
If landowners do not possess tolerance for grizzly bears in the areas they inhabit, work, and engage in recreational activities, it will result in a significant number of bears being killed due to their unwelcome presence.
Honeyman expressed hope that his position would be filled after his retirement, but he acknowledged that it happened during a time of ministry changes and subsequent budget cuts. Consequently, he is not surprised that the role still remains unfilled.
Following numerous instances of human-bear encounters in Alberta this autumn, Honeyman suggests that the province should adhere to its own guidelines and employ an additional specialist for the position.
The plan for the recovery of Grizzly Bears proposes the need for additional experts.
The province’s latest Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, released in 2020, calls for a database to track the location, cause and response to human and grizzly bear conflicts.
Additionally, it advocates for the recruitment of additional conflict experts in regions with significant demand.
Honeyman mentioned that the majority of the tasks outlined in the 83-page plan remain unfinished.
Honeyman stated that although it has been documented, the idea has not been implemented yet. It requires practical application and execution, which has not been done so far.
Why bother having a recovery plan if we’re not going to adhere to its recommendations, such as including one of these positions within each designated bear management area?
Since 2010, Alberta has classified grizzly bears as a species at risk.
Honeyman emphasized the significance of the plan in enhancing the population of grizzly bears in the province, as well as providing assistance to landowners regarding their concerns.
“We need to somehow increase tolerance and that occurs when coexistence is possible and people aren’t feeling threatened for their safety.”
New human-wildlife coexistence program
The Ministry of Forestry and Parks in Alberta is currently working on a new program aimed at promoting harmonious living between humans and wildlife within the province.
Pam Davidson, the spokesperson, stated that the team would have the responsibility of managing the BearSmart program, addressing conflicts between carnivores and agricultural producers, preventing predatory damage, implementing ungulate damage prevention measures, and delivering compensation programs.
The province has not given any information regarding its future plans for filling Honeyman’s previous position, or the reason behind the vacancy.
Davidson mentioned that a group of specialists in Forestry and Parks, along with those in Environment and Protected Areas, are collaborating to decrease the occurrences of conflicts between humans and wildlife in Alberta.
The government of Alberta is dedicated to safeguarding wildlife and implementing essential measures to ensure the safety of the public on Crown land.