CALGARY, Alberta (AP) Hungry after months of winter slumber, grizzlies in southwestern Alberta are waking up to find a feast of deer and elk roadkill.
For the sixth year in a row, staff from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Parks Canada and Volker Stevin Ltd., have teamed up to drop the carcasses of animals killed during the winter on highways near Waterton Lakes National Park into the backcountry where they can be found by grizzlies as they emerge from their dens.
''It's been very successful. The bears know where to go for a picnic now,'' said Carita Bergman, the provincial government's wildlife biologist for southwest Alberta.
The annual ''intercept feeding program'' is the keystone of the Southwest Alberta Grizzly Strategy launched in 1997.
Bergman said spring run-ins between cattle and grizzlies that were once common in the foothills near Waterton have been virtually eliminated.
''It's turning out to be a win-win for both people and bears,'' she said.
Since mid-March, the frozen bodies of about 200 ungulates collected by Volker Stevin highway maintenance crews have been relocated to about a dozen sites in the national park, adjacent provincial wilderness areas and on private land.
Helicopters are used to haul the meat into the woods where it can be sniffed out by grizzlies who need to replenish their depleted energy stores after hibernation.
The carcass drops are scheduled throughout early spring to ensure as many bears find them as possible.
''Dominant males are usually the first ones to wake up, followed by younger males and then females with cubs,'' Bergman said.
''We try to catch the bears before they get into trouble and putting this high-protein food source out for them for a short time in the spring keeps them from coming down onto the prairie until things green up.''
So far, the effort appears to be working.
Bergman said fish and wildlife officers haven't had to relocate a problem grizzly in the spring since the program began, compared to moving an average of three bears every two years before 1998.
Local residents say the program resulted in grizzlies no longer being a menace to cattle, especially during calving season.
''It used to be a big problem because bears were always coming into the pastures looking for cows and even cattle feed,'' said John Russell, whose family has owned a ranch beside the national park for four generations.
Funding for much of the program's $15,000 budget comes from the Alberta Conservation Association, a nonprofit agency that redistributes provincial hunting and angling fees to wildlife conservation projects.
The provincial government halted grizzly hunting in southwest part of the province this year over concerns about the number of ''human-caused'' bear deaths in the area in recent years.
A 1997 DNA study estimated the grizzly population south of Highway 3 to be between 60 and 65 bears.
''There are more problems here than elsewhere in the province because of the landscape,'' Bergman said.
''With the prairies coming right up to the mountains, there's not as much of a buffer between bears and people as there is further north.''
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