Is Legal Hunting Threatening the Kermode Bear?

British Columbia is home to abundant and diverse wildlife, including a strong and growing population of black bears. Aside from the urban centres, black bears are widely distributed throughout most of BC and government biologists estimate a population of 120,000-160,000. Black bears come in many other colours besides black including brown, blue and white. This range in colouration is caused by recessive gene mutations, which may be of adaptive significance for some subspecies of black bear, but is not with the white Kermode bear.

It can be estimated that approximately 8,000-10,000 black bears live within the Kermode range, which is about 64,000 km2 or twice the size of Vancouver Island. This area stretches from the Burkes Channel north to the Nass River and as far east as Terrace. “Pockets” of white Kermode bears are found along the BC coast, with higher concentrations on some of the islands where breeding pools are relatively small. Pure black bears (homogeneous) will not produces white, blue or brown cubs. If both parents carry the recessive gene (heterogeneous), then there is a 25% probability of having a white, blue or brown cub. The cause for the white gene mutation in black bears is unknown.

Threats to black bear populations include:

  • Predation by grizzly bears and other black bear boars
  • Exceeding the carrying capacity of habitat
  • Habitat loss
  • Severe winters
  • Diminished food supply (berries and salmon)
  • Poaching

It is a myth that legal hunting in our province threatens the continued existence of the white Kermode bear. It is illegal to hunt blue and white black bears, and the black bear harvest is limited to a small percentage of the population. The population of white Kermode bears is directly proportionate to the larger population of black bears in the area, which is quite steady in BC. Wildlife expert Dr. Val Geist states, “as long as there is a population of black bears in the Kermode range, there will be heterogeneous black bears carrying the recessive white gene.”

Hunting is a critical aspect of BC’s outdoor heritage, and it continues to help maintain steady and ecologically sustainable wildlife populations throughout our province. Hunting has occurred on the BC coast for over a hundred years. Hunters also generate significant funds towards wildlife management and enhancement projects.

There are many potential threats to the Kermode bear but legal hunting is not one of them.

For more information please contact GOABC’s Executive Director, Scott Ellis, at ellis@goabc.org or 1-877-818-2688.