Only a few hundred years ago, North America's iconic grizzly bears would feed, breed and roam as far south as Mexico. But decades of habitat loss and fragmentation, coupled with human-caused mortality caused by overhunting, poaching and collisions with trains and vehicles, have driven these bears out of most of their once-expansive historical range.
Today, British Columbia is home to as many as half of Canada's remaining grizzly bears and offers the last best hope for grizzlies south of the 60th parallel. But while B.C. still has healthy bear populations in the north and along the coast, grizzlies have disappeared or are currently threatened in 18 per cent of the province, particularly in the interior and southern B.C. Eleven small, isolated, and highly threatened local populations of grizzlies persist along B.C.'s southern border with the United States, including in the North Cascade Mountains, just east of Vancouver.
In 2004, the provincial government took a bold step towards protect these dwindling populations by developing the first grizzly bear recovery plan in Canadian history. Although it's not perfect, the North Cascade recovery plan is science-based and state of the art. It calls for protecting now-scarce grizzly habitat from development and motorized access, and connecting the North Cascades grizzly population to bears in neighbouring areas. It also calls for measures that would help grow the number of grizzlies in the area by importing five bears a year for five years into the North Cascades. Had the government started implementing the plan in 2004, there would now be more than 50 grizzly bears in the North Cascades and the population would be well on its way to recovery.
Instead, the North Cascades grizzly population continues to slide towards extinction. Despite its stated intentions, the B.C. government has taken few steps to implement its own plan — a plan that made Canadian history — because they don't have to. British Columbia is one of just two provinces without endangered species legislation (Alberta is the other) that would require it to take action to protect grizzly bears. B.C.'s grizzlies have been all but forgotten because they have no legal protection in the province or from the federal government's Species At Risk Act.
These iconic animals will continue to teeter on the brink until the B.C. government makes good on its promise to recover the North Cascades grizzly bear, and brings in a law to protect it and other threatened plants and animals.
You can help protect B.C. bears by signing our petition calling for an end to trophy hunting in the province.
To learn more about the fate and future of the North Cascades grizzly bear, tune in to The Nature of Things on CBC-TV on Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. to watch The Last Grizzly of Paradise Valley.
Jeff Gailus is an award-winning writer and the author of The Grizzly Manifesto (Rocky Mountain Books 2010) and numerous magazine articles.