The David Suzuki Foundation welcomes the B.C. auditor-general's decision to investigate the provincial government's management of grizzly populations, including its controversial trophy hunt.
"We hope this investigation will answer troubling questions we've raised about failed government policy that is allowing trophy hunters to kill too many grizzlies," said the Foundation's director-general for Ontario and Northern Canada, Faisal Moola.
The David Suzuki Foundation and the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre requested the investigation after providing the auditor-general with a scientific study showing that B.C.'s approach to grizzly bear management is failing to protect this iconic Canadian animal. The study by scientists from Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria and the Hakai Institute was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE and analyzed 35 years of grizzly bear mortality data in the province. It concluded that the provincial government is failing to keep kills below its own upper targets for bears killed by humans, and that government limits on bear mortality are regularly being exceeded in management areas throughout B.C. due to the trophy hunt.
The findings suggest the B.C. government is falling short on its duty to protect grizzlies, which are legally considered a public resource and are facing threats from logging, mining and oil and gas development, as well as direct morality from the trophy hunt and conflicts with people.
"The current hunt subjects grizzly populations to considerable risk. Substantial overkills have occurred repeatedly and might be worse than thought because of the many unaddressed unknowns in management," said Kyle Artelle, a biologist with Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
Grizzlies are important to the ecological, cultural and economic health of the province, and British Columbians deserve to know the facts about how they are being managed and whether government policy is putting the species at risk. "Decisions to expand the hunt in 2013 ran counter to our conclusions, casting doubt on the assertion that this is a science-based hunt," Artelle said, referring to a follow-up publication in the journal Science which criticized the decision to expand the hunt.
Approximately 300 grizzlies are killed each year in the province's annual trophy hunt. Grizzlies have also been eliminated from roughly 18 per cent of their original habitat in B.C. because of human impacts on habitat and other pressures. At least nine grizzly sub-populations in the province, including the North Cascades grizzly population east of Vancouver, are now on the verge of elimination.
The Foundation also asked the auditor-general to look into data transparency issues. Government data on bear mortality from trophy hunting are not publicly available, nor is information on quotas given to the guide-outfitter industry that sells grizzly bear hunts to foreign big-game hunters.
"All British Columbians have a stake in ensuring B.C.'s grizzly populations are healthy. Data on where and how many grizzlies are shot in the province should be clear and available to anyone," Moola said.
Faisal Moola, Director, David Suzuki Foundation
Phone: 416-348-9885, email: email@example.com
Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director, UVic Environmental Law Clinic
Phone: 250-472-5248, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyle Artelle, biologist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation
Phone: 778-222-1259, email: email@example.com
Media Backgrounder: Why is an auditor general investigation a big deal?
Under the Auditor General Act, the auditor general performs financial and performance audits. The auditor general examines whether the government is carefully managing all the assets of the province — including financial and natural resource assets.
- This will be a performance audit, which will determine if the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is effectively managing one of B.C.'s most precious assets, the grizzly bear population.
- Under the Auditor General Act, performance audits make a judgment about whether government is achieving its objectives "effectively, economically and efficiently".
- A key question in this audit is: Is the Province of B.C. achieving its objective of conserving grizzlies effectively?
- The trophy hunt will be examined through that lens. Therefore, the evidence we have provided that the hunt is not conserving grizzlies will be of central importance.
Power of the auditor general
- The auditor general is an independent officer of the legislature appointed by a process for which all parties have to agree that the appointee should be the government's chief watchdog.
- This fact gives the auditor general unparalleled credibility as a non-partisan and professional judge of whether government is doing a proper job of managing the province.
- The auditor general issues reports and audits to the B.C. legislature and government, and to the public. One of the auditor general's central statutory responsibilities is to make recommendations to improve government operations.
- Recommendations for reform found in auditor general audits do not have the force of law, but they have enormous moral and persuasive weight, coming from the independent auditor. A government that ignores auditor general recommendations may face political consequences.
- By convention, government responds formally to auditor general criticisms and recommendations, and the response is published simultaneous with the auditor general's audit. This makes government more accountable to auditor general findings.
- Auditor general reports have often been effective at changing government policies and actions. For example:
- The 2011 AG report on environmental assessment procedures resulted in wholesale changes that made the requirements on environmental assessment certificates far more enforceable.
- A 2008 AG report changed the way in which government deleted Tree Farm Licence Lands, ensuring that the public got compensation (e.g., public parks) during such deletions.
- The May 2016 AG report on compliance and enforcement in the mining industry compelled government to promise to implement the majority of the AG's recommendations in that case. For example, government is now addressing the problem that mining companies have not been fully bonding their mines to ensure that mines are cleaned up.