Sean Nichols, a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association, said all but one of the deaths can be attributed to human interaction — bears struck by vehicles on highways, shot in self-defence or killed illegally. The other bruin died of undetermined causes.
Although 15 doesn't sound like a huge number, Nichols said the deaths have been adding up over time. The current grizzly population is estimated at about 700.
"This is far, far too many," Nichols said. "When you look at the last 10 years it's 195, and when you take almost 200 out of that 700, you're looking at more than a quarter of the bears in the province."
An official with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development said the grizzly deaths are regrettable but should be put into perspective.
"The human-caused grizzly bear mortalities in 2012 were actually the lowest we've seen since 2007, and overall the mortality rates appear to be stable with no trends indicating any kind of an increase," said Nikki Booth.
Nichols said the majority of grizzly deaths last year were due to the proliferation of roads, trails, pipelines and other forms of backcountry access.
"We're seeing too much of that and all the trails, all the roads, all the pipelines, the railroads — it all sort of adds up and they all provide ways for people to get into the backcountry."
The level of public access to backcountry habitat significantly exceeds the maximums established in the government’s 2008 Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan, Nichols said. He wants the province to address this in its South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, a draft of which is to be released later this summer.
"We will be watching very carefully to see if the plan contains specific mechanisms to establish and enforce proper limits so grizzlies can roam in safety," Nichols said.
"When you get the weekend warriors who go out there and don't necessarily respect the land and sort of end up trashing the area, that really causes a lot of stress on the habitat and a lot of stress on the grizzly bears."