New study reveals complex relationships among grizzly bear activity, ecotourism, and salmon availability

by Raincoast Conservation Foundation
April 30, 2024

A new study “Ecology of fear alters behaviour of grizzly bears exposed to bear-viewing ecotourism” in the journal Ecology finds that bears will avoid ecotourists on multiple spatial and temporal scales, and can take multiple weeks after encounters to return to their undisturbed activity levels. The ‘ecology of fear’ concept allows an understanding of how an animal’s perception of risk may influence its behaviour and use of habitat. This perception of risk often relates to habitat structure, the types and intensity of risk cues, as well as an animal’s previous experiences. This study specifically examined how habitat structure and varied risk cues (in the form of human activity) influenced grizzly bear activity.

Given the increasing popularity of bear-viewing ecotourism, including their own Spirit Bear Lodge, the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation was interested in the potential effects of bear-viewing on the grizzly bears in their territory. The closure of ecotourism due to COVID-19 in 2020 in the K’ootz/Khutze Conservancy (“Khutze”) on the central coast of BC provided an unprecedented opportunity to monitor bear activity with remote cameras in the absence of humans, and compare it to human activity in 2021 when ecotourism resumed. Bear viewing in Khutze is primarily boat based, with two small land based interpretive sites in the estuary.

The study revealed complex relationships among grizzly bear activity, ecotourism, and salmon availability. The researchers found that grizzly bear activity in Khutze was influenced by the amount of human activity, habitat structure and salmon availability.

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