For the past 70 years, grizzly bears in the South Selkirk and Purcell mountains have largely been isolated from each other. What was once one population of bears has split over time, primarily due to development in the valleys, leaving the South Selkirk population small.

Since 2004, Kaslo scientist and independent researcher Michael Proctor has looked for ways to restore connectivity between these two populations and help recover the South Selkirk population. At the same time, he’s looked for ways to reduce bear mortality due to conflicts with humans.

In 2012, Michael began working with Trust support to GPS collar and track grizzlies.

His work provided a better understanding of the Creston Valley as an important wildlife corridor for Selkirk grizzly bears. Michael’s research found that 17 individual grizzly bears use this area. More specifically, the data showed that male bears range widely between Creston and Nelson and spend little time in the valley, while a few female bears spend longer periods of time in the valley.

“These bears spend much of their time in the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, right up to Duck Lake,” says Michael. “They also like to hang out in the Yaqan Nukiy wetland area.”

Radio collaring allows researchers like Michael to track and identify movement corridors between fragmented animal populations, like the Selkirk and Purcell grizzlies. Because these populations were fragmented and movement between each was lost over time, researchers must predict where these corridors might occur today.

“The information we get from collaring animals helps us understand how we can restore connectivity between the Selkirk and Purcell populations,” says Michael. “Radio collaring allows us to create habitat use models and those models paint a picture for how two separate populations once moved in one, unbroken area. It highlights where we should focus efforts to restore or protect habitat that will help support bears to move between the Selkirks to the Purcells.”

With a better understanding of how and where bears move within the Selkirk corridor, Michael has also been able to identify how bear-human conflict might arise and find ways to reduce it. The collar data provides information the BC Wildlife Conservation Service can use to support the management of grizzly bears in the Creston Valley.

“It was useful to follow the bears’ movement in the Creston Valley to understand their use of that corridor. It helped us focus management efforts to reduce human-wildlife conflicts,” says Michael. “For example, we now know bears are really attracted to corn fields and cherry orchards. We can go to residents and show them which attractants they should secure to prevent bear encounters. Collaring, tracking and other projects the Trust is supporting, such as electric fencing, help us better manage bears and people.”

Plus, the data he’s gathered will feed into projects like Kootenay Connect. This project has received support for conservation activities in a dozen habitats wetlands and riparian-rich valley-bottoms—one of which is the Creston Valley.

One of the management tools Kootenay Connect uses to enhance connectivity is to partner with organizations to purchase conservation lands that help increase ecological connectivity.  For example, in the Creston Valley, conservation lands in the north portion of the valley have been purchased by the Nature Conservancy of Canada that benefit the endangered northern leopard frog and the Selkirk grizzly, connecting both species’ winter and summer habitats.

Now managed to benefit frogs and bears, these lands also benefit many other species, including elk, deer and small predators.

“The investment by the Trust in our work on the Selkirk grizzly sub-population has supported us in expanding to this next level,” says Michael . “By helping us to understand bear connectivity, we are working to improve the habitats and connectivity or other species across the Kootenays.”