The B.C. government's failure to effectively manage grizzly bears has left nine sub-populations on the verge of extinction and is leading to widespread overkilling of bears, a report by the David Suzuki Foundation has found.
"The B.C. government gets failing grades for its implementation of the 1995 Grizzly Bear Strategy on almost every measure," said the foundation's Faisal Moola.
The peer-reviewed report analyzes whether the B.C. Grizzly Bear Strategy is sustaining bear habitat, preventing overkilling of bears by humans, maintaining the abundance and diversity of bears and increasing public and scientific knowledge of grizzly bears. The strategy has guided grizzly bear management in the province since it was adopted in 1995.
The study includes a report card, which found that although progress has been made in developing more accurate population estimates (grade: C), increasing scientific knowledge about grizzly bears (grade: B) and improving public awareness of the species (grade: C), little has been done to implement the conservation strategy to protect grizzly bear habitat (grade: D-) or prevent overkilling of bears, including in the province's controversial trophy hunt (grade: D).
"Grizzly bears have suffered from political indifference and inaction for too long," Moola said. "B.C. is one of the last places on earth where grizzlies feed, breed and roam across our forests and mountains, but we're abandoning this biological inheritance with management practices that don't work and, worse, threaten the health of the species."
The government was given a D grade for its inability to maintain the abundance and diversity of grizzly bears. Although about 15,000 grizzly reside in British Columbia, research shows that abundance and diversity — including genetic diversity — appear to have declined since the strategy began. No recovery plans have been implemented for B.C.'s nine threatened sub-populations, two of which scientists have deemed extinct: the Garibaldi-Pitt and North Cascade grizzlies, which once inhabited the Lower Mainland's forests and mountains.
Although the B.C. government claims its trophy hunt is well-managed, research cited in the report finds that with the hunt, grizzly bear mortality has not been managed below sustainable thresholds. Grizzly bear deaths at the hands of humans have exceeded government thresholds — often for consecutive years — in some bear populations, including those in the southeast corner of the province. The Cariboo and Kootenay districts have recently reopened for trophy hunting.
The foundation's report follows findings by the federal government's Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) that the majority of grizzly bear habitat in the province is "at risk" and that the species should be legally listed and protected under federal endangered species legislation.
Threatened bear populations can rebound if the government moves quickly to protect habitat, develops
Faisal Moola, Director General of Northern Canada and Ontario
647-993-5788 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Theresa Beer, Communications specialist
Backgrounder: Grizzly Bear Report Card Fact Sheet
Not making the grade
The David Suzuki Foundation analyzed the B.C. government's implementation of its Grizzly Bear Strategy and graded its performance.
GOVERNMENT IMPLEMENTATION OF B.C'S OFFICIAL GRIZZLY BEAR STRATEGY
|Conserve grizzly bear habitat||D-|
|Manage human-caused grizzly bear mortality||D|
|Ensure grizzly bear population numbers are accurately known||C|
|Maintain the abundance and diversity of grizzly bears||D|
|Increase scientific knowledge of grizzly bears||B|
|Increase public knowledge of grizzly bears||C|
Grizzly bear policy in B.C.
Grizzly bear management in B.C. falls under a 1995 policy framework called the Grizzly Bear Strategy. The strategy outlines an ambitious vision for sustaining the bears and recovering local declining populations.
The B.C. grizzly bear conservation plan lists ways to achieve the larger strategy's goals. Grizzly bear habitat can be protected by preserving a network of "grizzly bear ecosystems as management areas" where resource development would be prevented and/or strictly managed, hunting prohibited, and recreational activities that put grizzly bears at risk (like off-highway vehicle use) controlled.
The plan recognizes that human-caused mortality must be reduced and kept below sustainable thresholds by conservatively managing the grizzly bear sport hunt.
The Grizzly Bear Strategy acknowledges that there is much we don't know about grizzly bears, and more research is needed — including more accurate population estimates, genetic analyses and best locations for management areas. Public education to raise awareness about waste management, safety in bear habitat, bear biology and the legislation on bear management is called for.
The status of grizzly bears in B.C.
A century ago, 35,000 grizzly bears lived in B.C. and also flourished from Alaska to Mexico, and east to Ontario. Today, about 15,000 grizzly bears inhabit B.C. Grizzlies have disappeared from much of the province.
Grizzly bears need large ranges for food, mates and security. Their ranges are limited by natural and man-made obstacles, including mountain ranges and urban development, which divide them into smaller sub-populations.
B.C. has 56 sub-populations, mainly along the Canada-United States border and the coast north of Vancouver, with numbers ranging from six to 176. These numbers are too low to maintain healthy populations. Grizzly populations with fewer than 250 bears need conservation intervention but, as the U.S. has demonstrated, sub-populations can be revived through strategies such as habitat protection and strict controls on hunting.
Although classified as threatened and at risk of extinction, grizzlies aren't listed under the B.C. Wildlife Act or the federal Species at Risk Act. B.C.'s grizzlies are designated by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) as a "species of special concern". The Conservation Data Centre also found B.C. grizzlies are of "special concern" because their biological characteristics make them particularly sensitive to human activities like hunting or natural events like declines in food sources.
In addition to habitat loss and other human-connected threats, grizzlies also face climate change-influenced challenges including declines in important food sources such as whitebark pine seeds and seed-producing shrubs like huckleberry.