Future survival of B.C.’s grizzly bears at risk

The recently established Grizzly Bear Foundation, which is the only charity solely dedicated to the welfare of grizzlies in Canada, says the bears are being threatened by, among other things, a loss of habitat and a decline in food sources.

The long-term survival of the grizzly bear in B.C. could be at risk if we don’t take action now, according to a new report released Tuesday.

As part of the 88-page report, the three-person Board of Inquiry comprised of Audain, Stuart McLaughlin and Suzanne Veit, made 19 recommendations in education, conservation and research.

One of the most controversial recommendations is abolishing the provincially-sanctioned trophy hunt, which sees about 300 bears killed every year out of an estimated total population of about 15,000 grizzly bears. The provincial government has said in the past that the trophy hunt is sustainable in maintaining the grizzly bear population.

“Grizzly bears have lived in our province for at least 50,000 years,” Inquiry Chairman Michael Audain said in a release.

“But unless we take serious steps now to secure their wilderness home from encroachment by human activities and protect their food sources from the impact of climate change, in a few decades the bears may disappear.”

In November 2016, the B.C. NDP promised to ban the contentious practice of grizzly bear trophy hunting, if they’re elected into office in May. At the time of the announcement, party leader John Horgan said the hunt doesn’t make economical or environmental sense.

Stewart Philip, grand chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, greeted Horgan’s announcement with glee and applauded the NDP for “publicly stating their opposition to the barbaric practice of grizzly bear trophy hunting.”

The foundation’s board admits grizzly hunting is still practiced by a small minority of the province’s population, but that the “vast majority” of British Columbians would like to see trophy hunting eliminated, especially since grizzly bear tourism activities are flourishing. A poll released last month by Insights West, found 94 per cent of British Columbians said they opposed hunting animals for sport.

“There is nothing wrong with hunting wildlife for food on a sustainable basis and, indeed, hunters have played an important role in conservation activities to maintain this opportunity, but it seems that the great majority of British Columbians will no longer countenance hunters shooting grizzly bears just to mount their heads or pelts on a trophy wall. As a society, I believe that we have grown beyond that,” McLaughlin said.

At one time grizzlies roamed most of North America, but have since been gradually killed off and the last two sustainable populations are in the mountains of British Columbia and Alaska.

“We are host to an amazing species and are attracting visitors all around the world to see the grizzly in their nature state,” Audain said.

What generates the most revenue: grizzly bear hunting or watching?

In 2014, Center for Responsible Travel released a report comparing the economic value of bear viewing and trophy hunting for both grizzly and black bears in the Central and North Coast of British Columbia.

The report concluded that bear viewing in the Great Bear Rainforest generates far more value to the economy, both in terms of total visitor expenditures and GDP and provides greater employment opportunities and returns to government than does bear hunting.

It says, in 2012, bear-viewing companies in the Great Bear Rainforest generated over 12 times more in visitor spending than bear hunting. It argues bear viewing is attracting many more visitors to the Great Bear Rainforest than bear hunting.

People vs. bears

When it comes to the interactions between grizzly bears and people, which was a particular interest of the inquiry board, they concluded the bears inevitably end up the losers.

While the board believed the trophy hunt to be the main threat to the province’s grizzly bears, human encroachment into their habit along with the loss of essential foods like wild salmon and huckleberries is a greater threat.

“While termination of the hunt is clearly essential, grizzly bears face even greater threats from burgeoning human encroachment into their habitat,” Audain said.

“There are dark days ahead for the province’s grizzly bears if British Columbians are unwilling to address these issues and ensure that the bears have a secure home in our province.”

In August 2016, a posting by WildSafeBC Sunshine Coast said bear activity had been reported by residents in Egmont, which is located six kilometres east of the BC Ferry terminal in Earls Cove, several days earlier and although they suspected it might be a grizzly bear, the species had not yet been determined.

As they have done in the past when bears have wandered into communities, conservation officers and WildSafeBC staff visited residents and encouraged them to get rid of any attractants in hopes that the bear would move along.

Their attempts to get the bear to leave the area were unsuccessful. The bear ended up attacking a pig on a hobby farm and the owner shot the bear. Conservation officers were notified and confirmed it was a young male grizzly bear.

“The cumulative impacts of habitat loss, insecure food sources, inadequate enforcement of wildlife laws, legal hunting, and the as-yet uncertain impacts of climate change combine to present major challenges to the survival of the grizzly bears,” Veit said.

“Strong action is needed now to secure their future.”

Ross Dixon from the Raincoast Conservation Foundation thinks the inquiry came up with several good recommendations, in particular the one involving the province stopping the hunting of grizzly bears.

“This is something Raincoast has been advocating for 20 years and a lot of the work in the Great Bear Rainforest and Coastal First Nations has been to end the commercial hunting of grizzly bears,” Dixon told Global News.

The audit board has shared their report with the provincial government, but has not had an opportunity to meet with them about the recommendation to terminate the hunt. McLaughlin said the board hopes the province will consider the report and that the foundation has some influence on policy going forward.

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