Grizzly Bears

Grizzly Bears Grizzly bears in British Columbia represent many things to different people. To a large percentage of the population, they represent all that is still wild about our province, a link to the past before humans came and logged much of the forests, put roads over the mountains, and dammed the rivers. This view of grizzly bears as somewhat of a ‘flagship’ species is reflected in the naming by environmental groups of the large wilderness area of the Central Coast as the Great Bear Rainforest. Certainly there are many other species that inhabit the coastal rainforests from the Upper Squamish Valley north to the Alaska Panhandle, such as blacktail deer, Pacific salmon, and grey wolves, but it is the grizzly bear that is the symbol that is attached to this area by people the world over. It is the presence of healthy grizzly bear populations that displays a preservation and care for our forests to the world, and it is for this reason that there are strong pressures on those who manage grizzly bear populations in B.C.

to protect them from future declines in population and range. This is a very complex task, as grizzly bears have very strict habitat requirements, and pressure from all sorts of encroaching developments require care to be taken in the planning process. Today in British Columbia grizzly bears do still exist in viable wild populations throughout much of their historic range. Prior to European settlement in British Columbia ca. 1793, grizzly bears ranged throughout the entire mainland of B.C., save for areas of icefield.

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While much of their historical habitat has been extensively altered, grizzly bears still occupy the coastal areas of mainland B.C. from just north of Powell River all the way to the Alaska Panhandle. The entire northern half of the province contains large tracts of suitable habitat, as do the Rocky, Purcell, and Selkirk Mountains. The central interior plateau area of the province from Quesnel north to Prince George still contains depressed numbers of bears, while the Southern Interior and South Coast/Lower Mainland no longer has grizzly bear populations (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks ,1995). The institution charged with managing grizzly bears in British Columbia is the Wildlife Branch of the Ministry of Environment, Land, and Parks.

The Wildlife Branch has an official mandate relating to its management of grizzly bears, which was published in the British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy in June of 1995. The mandate that is given is “…to ensure the continued existence of grizzly bears and their habitats for future generations.” (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). This is a very wide ranging mandate, and when coupled with the first of the four goals stated under the mandate, “To maintain in perpetuity the diversity and abundance of grizzly bears and the ecosystems on which they depend throughout British Columbia.” (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995), it is apparent that this is a goal easier said than done. The Wildlife Branch of MELP participates in both the direct management of bear populations (ie. hunting) and in indirect management processes such as land use planning that affects grizzly bear habitats.

In direct management processes the Wildlife Branch has more power than in other processes that involve more user groups. Hunting pressures represent the largest direct issue that the Wildlife Branch deals with, and it is with hunting regulations that the Wildlife Branch wields the most power. In 1996, grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia moved to a limited entry basis known as LEH permits, or limited entry hunting permits. This process allows the Wildlife Branch to control how many permits are issued on an annual basis, in theory allowing the total kill to be monitored. This option is available only to residents of British Columbia, while non residents must hire a licensed guide outfitter who has also been issued a permit. According to the Grizzly Bear Harvest Management Policy, released in 1999, harvests are determined as follows: allowable harvest = (max allowable total human caused mortality)-(estimate of unknown human caused mortality)-(estimated known non-hunting human caused mortalities that are predicted to occur based on past experience). The maximum total human caused mortality can range from 3% to 6%, depending on the average habitat capability for the area as determined by the Regional Wildlife Section Head (RWSH).

The habitat capability is used to estimate populations based on the potential that an area is assigned in terms of supporting grizzly bears. These habitat carrying capacities are reviewed every three years by the RWSH in conjunction with the provincial Large Carnivore Research Biologist. Prior to 1989, the annual allowable harvest was solely based on being 5% of the provincial population, but with concerns of concentrations of overharvesting, a review was conducted in 1989, and it was determined that during the period 1984-1988, 52 of 118 management units inhabited by grizzlies had total kills exceeding the annual allowable harvest. After this a guideline was established throughout the province that set the allowable harvest from all sources at about 4% of the total population (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1999). Limited entry hunts for grizzly bears are allowed throughout the province’s management regions except for regions 2 and 8 (the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan, respectively).

Since LEH was implemented in 1996, the total grizzly bear harvest by hunters has been under 300. In 1999, a total of 154 grizzlies were legally killed by residents, and another 110 bears were killed by non-residents, which totals 264 grizzlies taken legally by hunters, and in 1998 only 207 bears were killed (Brooke, 1999). An additional 82 bears were reported killed for posing a threat to people or property, although it is certain many more went unreported (Pynn, 2000). These harvest numbers do show a decline from traditional hunter harvest. For example, from 1965 to 1970, the total legal hunting kill ranged from 340 to 460, with a total legal kill of 2440 grizzly bears over this 6 year period (Finegan, 1971). Additionally, the annual average kill was 350 up until 1992 (Brooke, 1999).

The total number of illegal and unreported kills of grizzly bears remains unknown , but estimates have put it anywhere from 25% to 100% of the known kill, depending on the area and access (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). One other significant factor affecting some grizzly bear populations in B.C. is the translocation of bears. In 1973, the B.C. government , along with Alberta, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana established the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which was charged with managing cross border populations of grizzlies. The IGBC recognised that , with the exception of Yellowstone Park, the lower 48 states could not maintain viable populations of grizzly bears without help from Canadian provinces via habitat and bears(British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). Habitat mapping was conducted in the 4 areas that were identified as containing suitable habitat ( Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, Southern Selkirks, and the North Cascades), and British Columbia has also relocated several bears from healthy populations to these regions. Excluding the North Cascades, the Canadian portions of these ecosystems still maintain fairly strong populations, some of which have been relocated to U.S.

portions of the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem to augment the populations in the southern reaches. Grizzly bear populations in the North Cascades area have been severely reduced, so in an attempt to augment populations there the Wildlife Branch relocated 10 bears from the Lillooet Valley (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995) . This met with some success, but one adult male who was radio collared was observed to have returned to his home range by way of the Chilliwack River valley, crossing the TransCanada highway and the Fraser, and heading north through Golden Ears Park. This information could be very important in determining future land use processes involving grizzly bears. While decisions regarding hunting and relocation of grizzly bears falls under the jurisdiction of the Wildlife Branch, decisions involving the management of grizzly bear habitat are much more complex.

Maintaining high quality grizzly bear habitat is of the utmost importance to the long term viability of grizzly bears, as they have very specific requirements that must be met in order to avoid alienation of bears. First off, grizzly bears require vast amounts of land to live upon, usually in the 50 to 100 square km range, and sometimes reaching up to nearly 900 square km in less productive habitats (Thornton, 1999). The Khutzeymateen Valley, which is believed to contain the highest densities of grizzlies in B.C., was shown to have had densities of 16.4-23.3 square km/bear (not including young) throughout the year (MacHutcheon, A.G., et al. 1993). This study area is an ecosystem in near pristine condition, but in areas where impacts have been greater, bears will avoid developed areas and require a greater range.

It is for this reason that the preservation of intact tracts of habitat are crucial to the survival of grizzly bears. The majority of the land base that grizzly bears are present on in B.C. is administered by the B.C. Ministry of Forests (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995), and to a lesser extent areas have also been influenced by government departments such as the Ministry of Highways, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. In 1995, the Ministry of Environment, Land, and Parks published the British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, which was designed to be a blueprint for managing affairs regarding grizzly bear conservation in British Columbia, and ultimately to reverse the loss of bear numbers and habitat that had been occurring over the past several hundred years. Three main areas of improvement were identified in the Strategy that were needed to secure the long term viability of the grizzlies:The conservation of grizzly bear habitat, the establishment of an independent Grizzly Bear Scientific Advisory Committee, and improvements in research and population inventory methods (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). The tool that is to be used by the Wildlife Branch in the protection of key grizzly bear habitat is the establishment of Grizzly Bear Management Areas (known as GBMA’s). This initiative is designed to preserve a network of key, relatively intact grizzly bear ecosystems as special management areas.

Once an area is to be designated as a GBMA, it can then be managed to limit activities that are detrimental to grizzly bear populations. Once an area has been designated as a GBMA, it will be closed to grizzly bear hunting, it will control other recreational activities that could conflict with grizzly bears, and if possible it will be linked to other GBMAs by corridors that contain habitat necessary for grizzly bears. Selection of areas as GBMAs will be occur with priority to areas that contain suitable habitat, areas that are in close proximity to existing protected areas, and areas where grizzly populations are threatened (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995) . While in theory the idea of GBMAs sound like an effective management tool for conserving grizzly bear populations, the actual designation of an area as a GBMA must be done through the opportunities within existing land use initiatives, such as Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs), Protected Areas Strategy (PAS), and the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE). In areas where any of these processes are occurring or proposed, Wildlife Branch staff may provide relevant information and, if desired, recommend the establishment of a GBMA through the landuse designation process.

These processes require public consultation and many different stakeholder groups would have to be included in the decision. Representatives of First Nations groups as well as public stakeholder groups such as the B.C. Wildlife Federation (a notably pro-hunting group), the Guide Outfitters Association of BC, the federation of BC Naturalists, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC would all have to be included (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995), in addition to local interest groups and environmental groups such as the Rainforest Conservation Society. Clearly within this gathering there would be very different viewpoints on grizzly bear management, with some of these groups at opposite ends of the spectrum on some issues (most notably hunting). Once all of these interests were established, it would be the decision of the LRMP or the CORE table itself, not the Wildlife Branch, to designate a given area as a GBMA. In areas where there have been no land use planning processes occurring, and there are not any proposed, the Wildlife Branch may only propose a no-hunting zone after consulting with local interests. These no-hunting zones would not be protected from any other types of activities such as resource extraction and industrial road building, as well as recreational activities such as camping and skiing.

While closing an area to hunting does require c …