Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Half of B.C. needed to save grizzlies, report says:

February 12, 2004

A team of international grizzly bear scientists say at least two-thirds of B.C.‘s current grizzly habitat must be set aside as protected areas for the bears or they will disappear. The authors admit such a vast portion would never be set aside, but say the study is crucial.

In the report to be presented today at a conference of international bear scientists in San Diego and made available Wednesday to The Vancouver Sun, Utah State University wildlife scientist Barrie Gilbert and four other bear experts say 68 to 84 per cent of the habitat currently occupied by grizzly bears in B.C. must be “fully protected from all ecologically damaging human activities and allow no grizzly bear sport hunting.”

That amounts to between 550,000 and 670,000 square kilometres of territory, or between half and two-thirds of the entire province.

The report, entitled Scientific Criteria for Evaluation and Establishment of Grizzly Bear Management Areas in British Columbia, and commissioned by the Raincoast Conservation Society, is at odds with current B.C. government policy that proposes setting aside only three small temporary — 10-year — grizzly bear management areas. They would be located near Knight Inlet on the south coast, near Princess Royal Island on the central coast, and north of Prince Rupert on the north coast. The exact locations and size are still to be determined. While the areas would forbid sport hunting, they would not restrict road building or any other kind of industrial activity, both of which are hazardous to grizzly survival, the scientists say.

Grizzly management areas, the scientists say, must be roadless, closed to sport hunting, and have total protection from logging, mining and other resource extraction, as well as “all motorized human activity.”

In an interview from San Diego, Gilbert admitted it’s unlikely that such a vast portion of the province would ever be set aside under such strict conditions, but said if the government were sincere about wanting to save grizzlies, it would take the recommendation seriously.

“Well, it’s a goal,” he said. “Whether it will happen or not, I can’t say. But if the government says it wants to maintain grizzly bears … it would operate within this 68 to 84-per-cent protected area.

“B.C. still has large amounts of wild country, but the bears and other wild species are disappearing at an unconscionable rate.”

The report, which will be presented to B.C. government scientists today, was in part the basis of a decision made last month by the European Union science committee to prohibit further importation of B.C. grizzly bear trophies into any of the EU’s 15 member countries.

In announcing that decision, EU scientists said B.C. had failed to implement any protection measures for the grizzly, and therefore importation of B.C. grizzly trophies by EU hunters would no longer be allowed.

In March 2003, a panel of scientists appointed by the ministry of water, land and air protection recommended that at least six large grizzly management area be established in each of the province’s six “ecoprovinces” — a term the panel never defined, Gilbert says.

Those areas, however, were never established either, Gilbert’s report concludes, and even if they were, it says they “would be totally inadequate to achieve any goals of population stability.”

The report also criticizes the lack of resources put forth by the province to regulate hunting and control poaching.

“[The government] have put endangered species at the bottom of the pile, and hampered the ability of what few conservation officers are left to monitor what’s going on,” Gilbert said.

According to a 2002 report by University of Calgary grizzly scientist Brian Horesji, this year’s B.C. government spending on wildlife protection will be the lowest in 20 years. It said that after adjusting for inflation, provincial spending on wildlife law enforcement will have dropped more than 50 per cent since 1983, the earliest year for which such statistics are available. While the government estimates that there could be as many as 13,000 grizzlies left in B.C., conservationists and independent scientists say it could be as low as 4,000.

Asked how quickly grizzlies could disappear from B.C. if steps aren’t taken to protect them, Gilbert said he didn’t know, but that certain small populations near the U.S. border could vanish soon.

“It’s very grave in particular places, and especially around the B.C. border with the U.S. There are populations there that could wink out at any time.” He also said he believes the B.C. government is “leaning” on its biologists “to say things that aren’t true.”

“That’s the end result,” he said. “If you want to keep your job, you can put a spin on just about anything.”