Management of Grizzly Bears
BC’s management of grizzly bears is a story the province should be proud of. An estimated 25,000 grizzlies reside in Canada, half of which live in British Columbia. The provincial estimate of BC’s grizzly bear population has remained in the range of 14,000-16,000 for nearly two decades.
British Columbia’s wildlife management relies on strong science and sound laws. We are fortunate to have the resources through the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation to undertake scientific studies, procure accurate population estimates, and understand the appropriate level of consumptive use.
Following a brief grizzly bear hunting moratorium in the spring of 2001, an Independent Scientific Panel was appointed by the government in consultation with the International Association for Bear Research and Management. The Panel was assigned to conduct a review to ensure that hunting would not threaten the long-term viability of the grizzly bear population in BC. A thorough and positive report was released in March 2003. It provided some recommendations for improvement, but concluded that “the harvest of grizzly bears in BC can be managed on a sustainable basis, with minimal risk of population declines.” (67) Furthermore, it was noted that “actual harvest data by Grizzly Bear Population Units from 1998-2000 revealed no clear indication of over-harvesting of grizzly bears in the province.” (57)
Grizzly Bear Hunt in BC
Today, the grizzly bear hunt continues to be one of the most tightly controlled hunts on the planet. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has divided British Columbia in 56 Grizzly Bear Population Units (GBPU), based on habitat and natural boundaries. Government biologists assign populations to each GBPU by comparing data derived based from provincial DNA studies, mark-recapture projects, and a step-down method based on habitat factors. Populations of less than 100 bears are not hunted. Currently 35% of the province is closed to grizzly bear hunting.
Population estimates are further broken down by Management Unit, which allows wildlife managers to distribute hunting pressure effectively over large areas. Taking into account other-human caused mortality, female mortality, and population size, appropriate hunter harvest rates are determined by GBPU and divided between resident hunters and guided clients.
The resident hunter share is delivered through Limited Entry Hunting and the guided sector via quotas. Over the past decade, grizzly bear harvest has been consistently between 250-350 province-wide. The current hunter harvest rate is approximately 2%, which is significantly less than the maximum human-caused mortality of 5% stipulated in the Grizzly Bear Harvest Management Procedure. All grizzly bear hunting is guided by strict laws that prohibit poaching, baiting, and shooting any bear under the age of 2 years old (or any bear it its presence).
Any bear taken by a hunter must undergo a Compulsory Inspection. This requirement has been in place since 1976. The specific location of the harvest is provided to the local biologists, who can adjust the issuance of hunting permits in future years to avoid localized overharvesting.
This approach was affirmed by some of North America’s top bear scientists in the 2003 review. Since then the province has continued to dedicate the resources and employ the biologists to undertake research projects to better understand grizzly bear populations. One of the benefits of continuous research is that no study stands alone; techniques and results are constantly being compared and contrasted, and the weaknesses of one study can be filled by the strengths of another. Estimates of density and population are always being refined and improved.
Long Term Stewardship
Humans use natural resources, both for physical survival and, where possible, personal enjoyment. We use oil to drive to holiday destinations, and take boats out on the water on sunny afternoons. We use trees to build homes and natural gas to keep their temperatures comfortable year round. We dig through the earth to find spectacular diamonds to express love and appreciation. What is important is that we do these things cognizant of sustainability. Market demand alone cannot dictate usage. As with everything else, we need to balance consumptive enjoyment of nature with long-term stewardship.
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
The world’s oldest and largest conservation body, the IUCN, considers the current international population trend of brown bears to be “stable” and has listed them as a species of “Least Concern,” which is the lowest possible designation on the IUCN spectrum. The IUCN believes that sustainable use, including trophy hunting, is a fundamental pillar of conservation.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Originally established in 1963, CITES is an agreement between 180 governments to ensure that international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Grizzly bears are listed in CITES Appendix II. This means they are not threatened with extinction, but experts feel that trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. This designation is partly due to the fact that grizzly bear parts closely resemble parts of some Appendix I species.
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)
COSEWIC is a team of Canadian experts that use science and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge to determine the national status of species that may be at risk. Originally established in 1977, COSEWIC is now an advisory body for the Canada’s Species at Risk Act. COSEWIC listed grizzly bears as a species of
“Special Concern” in 1991, which indicates that they are neither threatened nor endangered, but are sensitive to changes in habitat. This status was confirmed in again in 2002 and 2012.
Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
In 2003 the International Association for Bear Research and Management assisted the provincial government in developing a Grizzly Bear Independent Scientific Panel comprised of some of North America’s top bear scientists to review BC’s management of grizzly bears. Their report made recommendations for improvement, but was positive of BC’s approach to managing grizzly bears management and sustainable hunting opportunities.