Sustainable Use

Management of Grizzly Bears

BC’s management of grizzly bears is a story the province should be proud of. An estimated 28,000 grizzlies reside in Canada with at least half in British Columbia. The provincial estimate of BC’s grizzly bear population has remained in the range of 14,000-16,000 for 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 Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, the Together for Wildlife initiative, and the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation to undertake scientific studies, procure accurate population estimates, and understand the appropriate level of consumptive use.

Did You Know? More than 50% of Canada’s grizzly bear population resides in BC.

In 2001, and then again in 2015, independent scientific panels were appointed by the BC government in consultation with the International Association for Bear Research and Management and the IUCN Bear Specialist Group. Both of the panels were asked 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 2003 by the first panel. The other report was released in 2016 by the second panel and concluded that “the BC grizzly bear harvest management procedures have attained a high level of rigor with a solid scientific underpinning modified, as necessary, by professional judgement.” Both reviews 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)

Did You Know? The BC grizzly bear hunt was one of the most tightly-controlled hunts on the planet.

Grizzly Bear Hunt in BC

In 2017, the grizzly bear hunt was closed in BC – not because of a concern of sustainability, but because many citizens were not in favour of hunting grizzly bears.  Prior to its closure, the BC grizzly bear hunt was one of the most tightly controlled hunts on the planet. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations had divided British Columbia in 56 Grizzly Bear Population Units (GBPU), based on habitat and natural boundaries. Government biologists assigned populations to each GBPU by comparing data derived from over 20 provincial DNA based, mark-recapture projects (A robust method first developed in BC and now the “gold standard” globally), and a step-down method based on habitat factors. Population Units with less than 100 bears were not hunted and those covered about 35% of the province and thus have been closed to grizzly bear hunting for decades.

Population estimates were often further broken down by Management Unit, which allowed wildlife managers to distribute hunting pressure effectively over large areas. Taking into account the estimated population size, other-human caused mortality factors, and a female bear hunter kill limit, sustainable hunter harvest rates were determined by GBPU and divided between resident hunters and guided clients.

The resident hunter share is delivered through Limited Entry Hunting (a lottery for a limited number of permits) and the guided sector via quotas. Over the last decade that grizzly bears were hunted, the harvest was consistently between 250-350 province-wide. The hunter harvest rate was approximately 2%, which was significantly less than the maximum human-caused mortality of 6% stipulated in the Grizzly Bear Harvest Management Procedure. All grizzly bear hunting was guided by strict laws that prohibited poaching, baiting, shooting a mother bear with cubs or yearlings, or shooting any bear under the age of 2 years old (or any bear it its presence).

Did You Know? Approximately 250-350 bears were taken by hunters each year, the majority of which were shot by residents of British Columbia.

Any bear taken by a hunter must undergo a Compulsory Inspection. This requirement has been in place since 1976. A tooth is removed for accurate aging and sexing, and 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 and then again in the 2016 review. Even though the hunt has ended, the province has continued to dedicate some resources and employ biologists to undertake research projects to better understand grizzly bear populations. One of the benefits of ongoing monitoring and research is that no study stands alone; techniques and results are compared and contrasted, and the limitations of one study can be filled by the greater understanding of another. Estimates of density and population are always being refined and improved.

Long-Term Stewardship

Humans use natural resources, for physical survival, improved living standards, 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.

Sustainable Use

The Experts

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 and again in 2016, the International Association for Bear Research and Management and the IUCN Bear Specialist Group assisted the provincial government in developing Grizzly Bear Independent Scientific Panels comprised of some of North America’s top bear scientists to review BC’s management of grizzly bears. Both reports made recommendations for improvement, but were positive of BC’s approach to managing grizzly bears and sustainable hunting opportunities.

In 2019 the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy completed its Conservation Ranking of Grizzly Bear Population Units – 2019. Following the IUCN Redlist and NatureSurve methods, the conservation status of all 55 grizzly bear population units were ranked based on numerous criteria from habitat quality and trends to level of connectivity. Three units were considered to have extreme conservation concern and 14 had a high level of concern leaving 38 with moderated to low conservation concerns.

Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia

In 2017 the Auditor General of British Columbia completed its detailed (73 page) review of grizzly bear management in BC.  The major concerns were a lack of clear roles and responsibilities of the two government ministries concerned with wildlife management at the time and a lack of a “plan-do-check-adjust” cycle of actions. Although ten recommendations were made, the AG concluded that “the greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting, but rather, human activities that degrade grizzly bear habitat.” The AG specifically highlights the problem of increasing road access and the lack of a mechanism to manage and control the proliferation of resource roads.