Environmentalists seek greater protection for grizzly bears

Trophy hunting has made province's parks and protected areas a graveyard for big-game animals, David Suzuki Foundation says

By Larry Pynn, Vancouver SunFebruary 26, 2010


British Columbia's parks and protected areas are graveyards for grizzly bears shot by trophy hunters, the David Suzuki Foundation said Thursday after analysing wildlife mortality records obtained from the provincial government.

Faisal Moola, the Vancouverbased foundation's director of terrestrial conservation and science, said the finding is based on a review of 10,811 grizzlies killed by humans from 1977 to 2009 in B.C.

Of those, almost 90 per cent were legally killed by trophy hunters, many of them Americans with guide-outfitters, and the rest by various means, including road and rail kills, poaching, trapping, and the shooting of bears for posing a threat or nuisance.

When the David Suzuki Foundation overlaid the kill sites against a map of provincial park boundaries it discovered that at least 547 grizzlies (a figure that does not include 2009 kills) were shot in 60 provincial parks, wildlife management areas, ecological reserves, and conservancies.

Not only grizzlies, but a wide range of big-game animals such as elk, moose, and mountain sheep are legally hunted in B.C.'s larger wilderness parks.

The Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. countered in a release that grizzly bears must be managed just like other wildlife species.

The association said it is "irresponsible to allow wildlife to exceed their carrying capacity" and argued that bears in "national parks, where hunting is prohibited ... have lost their wariness and have become habituated to people."

Conservation groups are also calling for greater protection for the iconic white spirit bear, or kermode, of the northwest coast.

Although spirit bears are protected from hunting, black bears that carry the gene and can produce a spirit bears are not.

Ian McAllister of B.C.-based Pacific Wild argued that less than two per cent of the spirit bear's "genetic range" protects the bears from trophy hunting.

"How can British Columbia be celebrating the spirit bear in the opening Olympic ceremony and as an official mascot to the Olympics when trophy hunting is allowed in over 98 per cent of the animal's genetic range?"

Environment Minister Barry Penner was unavailable for comment Thursday.

His ministry issued a release stating that the 299 grizzly bears shot by hunters in 2009 represented less than two per cent of the population and did not pose a conservation issue.

The total closed area for black-bear hunting on B.C.'s coast is 122,000 hectares, including the Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy, Gribbell Island, the Whalen Estuary and all lands within one kilometre of it, the ministry added.

The grizzly mortality records, which show the location of kills to within a one-kilometre square grid, were released to environmental groups after a request to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Northern Rocky Mountains Provincial Park topped the list at 98 grizzly kills, followed by Spatsizi Plateau at 73, Purcell Wilderness at 53, and Tatshenshini-Alsek at 45.

"Most people think of these parks as big wildlife conservation areas," Moola said. "They are envisioned as places where plants and animals are safe from human activity. What our research shows is that this perception is absolutely untrue."

B.C. has taken important steps to protect grizzly habitat in some areas, including by banning certain resource extraction activities in the Flathead Valley in southeastern B.C., said Moola, a scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto.

But these measures are nearly useless without laws that prevent the bears themselves from being shot and killed, he argued. "Sadly, B.C.'s threatened grizzlies are no safer in a protected area than they are on the side of a highway."


All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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