Habitat, not hunting, the greatest threat to B.C. grizzlies: report
The greatest risk to British Columbia's 15,000 grizzly bears is the degradation of their habitat, the province's auditor general said in a report criticizing ministry management.
Carol Bellringer cited increased infrastructure, expansion of gas and oil developments and human settlement as the bears' biggest threat. The report released Tuesday looked at the management of grizzly populations in B.C. over the last 20 years.
- Read the full report on the auditor general's website
Bellringer found that the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations have launched initiatives to help the species thrive, but have not evaluated whether the programs are actually effective.
The report looked at grizzlies specifically, as their long-term health can indicate the health of other species, including their prey, and their overall ecosystem.
B.C.'s grizzly populations are increasing in some areas, but Bellringer said the growth is likely independent from the government's actions.
Her report came just over a month before a new hunting ban is scheduled to come into effect. The NDP Government announced in August that grizzly trophy hunting would be prohibited after the 2017 season closes on Nov. 30.
The province will allow hunting for meat, but bears' pelts, heads and paws cannot be kept. All grizzly hunting will be banned in the Great Bear Rainforest.
B.C.'s grizzly hunt also made headlines last month when singer Miley Cyrus added her name to a list of those lobbying the government to close the "loophole" of hunting for food.
But Bellringer wrote that there are larger problems facing the animals, and better areas for the new government to focus its efforts.
Her report suggested the ministries come up with a monitoring strategy and inventory system, with an emphasis on transparency to the public.
She said the current grizzly program is not working. While the government does publicly report on bear populations and mortalities online, the website doesn't indicate when it will be updated. The population information available at the time of the report was posted five years ago, and while there was discussion about updating the statistics, there was no policy requirement to do so.
On the Ministry of Environment's website, details of a plan for recovery of the North Cascades population leave out that the plan was never put into operation.
"A primary reason (the program isn't working) is that MoE and MFLNRO have an unclear organizational structure and unclear accountabilities for wildlife management," the report said.
The ministries have overlapping responsibilities and "unresolved" tension.
Bellringer outlines 10 recommendations which are largely focused on the development of policies and procedures which would improve the effectiveness of monitoring existing programs.
In response, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development – formerly known as the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations – agreed to develop a provincial management plan.
The new plan will outline clear objectives, rules, responsibilities and accountabilities, the ministry said in a statement. It is also accepting all 10 recommendations outlined in the report.
"The province will work with First Nations, natural resource industries, stakeholders and the public in implementing the auditor general's recommendations," the statement said.
Minister Doug Donaldson added that the ministry will work to improve wildlife management overall, "but we know that grizzly bears remain in 90 per cent of their historic range."
George Heyman, minister of the recently renamed Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, said the new plan will be "robust" and proactive.
- Read the full response on the Government of B.C. website
The field director of the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Recovery Initiative said his organization agrees with the threats outlined in the report, and that it fully supports the recommendations.
Johnny Mikes said the group is encouraged by the province's response, and that it hopes the ministries will act quickly.
"Time is of the essence for some populations. The province needs to prioritize developing and implementing recovery actions for the most at-risk populations immediately, or we risk losing them from the landscape," he said in a statement.
Coast to Cascades said the populations in B.C.'s southwest are the most at risk.
"Strong and immediate measures to reduce incidental mortality, increase connectivity between populations, and safeguard important habitat for grizzlies must be integral components in the province’s approach to recovery," Mikes said.