Less than a month after a ban on grizzly bear trophy hunting came into effect, the province has decided to expand the ban to include hunting the species for meat.
B.C.'s minister of forests, lands and natural resources made the announcement Monday, stating that the decision was made after consultations conducted earlier this fall.
"We have listened to what British Columbians have to say on this issue and it is abundantly clear that the grizzly hunt is not in line with their values," Doug Donaldson said in a statement.
The government consulted with Aboriginal groups, stakeholders and the public, and said that 78 per cent of respondents supported an outright ban.
Grizzly hunting season will no longer open April 1, the government said. The ban applies to both resident and non-resident hunters, but First Nations members will still be permitted to hunt bears for food, social and ceremonial purposes and treaty rights.
Coastal First Nations celebrated the expanded prohibition as an "important step toward reconciliation."
Environment Minister George Heyman said the ban, as well as a focused grizzly bear management plan, were the first steps in protecting the species.
He said the province also hopes to promote grizzly bear viewing programs, giving residents and visitors the opportunity to view the bears in their natural habitat.
Speaking on behalf of the B.C. Greens, MLA Adam Olsen said his party was "absolutely overjoyed" with the decision.
The ban came less than a month after the province's ban on trophy hunting of grizzlies came into effect. Grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest was also no longer permitted as of Nov. 30.
The province said staff will also be implementing recommendations made in a report released in October on grizzly bear management.
The report found that the greatest risk to B.C.'s 15,000 grizzlies is the degradation of their habitat, not hunting.
B.C.'s auditor general cited increased infrastructure, expansion of gas and oil development and human settlement as the bears' biggest threat.
Carol Bellringer also criticized ministry management in her review of conservation programs operating over the last 20 years. She found that the ministries of environment and natural resources had launched initiatives meant to help the species thrive, but never actually evaluated whether the programs were effective.
B.C.'s grizzly populations are increasing in some areas, but Bellringer said the growth is likely independent from the government's actions.
The government said Monday it would soon begin a consultation process on a renewed wildlife management strategy.
In addition to the auditor general's report, B.C.'s grizzly hunt also made headlines in September when singer Miley Cyrus added her name to a list of those lobbying the government to close the "loophole" of hunting for food.
Cyrus and others were critical of the previous policy that came into effect at the end of November that allowed the killing of grizzlies as long as they removed some of the animals' meat.
The trophy hunting loophole has been eliminated with the updated policy, the Humane Society International's Canadian executive director said.
In a statement to CTV News, Rebecca Aldworth said that the government showed strong leadership with the move: "Grizzly hunting has no place in the 21st century, and today's announcement is a crucial step forward in protecting these majestic animals from senseless cruelty."
The Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative also said the ban was welcome, but that the group is hopeful the province will now set its sights on recovering at-risk populations that were already off-limits to hunters.
The group cited a recommendation from the auditor general to have certain grizzly subpopulations added to the federal Species At Risk Act (SARA), a move that would bring "much-needed attention and resources" to recovering the species in areas where the bears have dwindled.
"What these particular grizzlies really need right now are quick actions that prioritize recovery and deliver on the commitment made by the province to improve their approach to managing the species," field director Johnny Mikes said in a statement.
And others were critical of the way the NDP updated its hunting policy weeks after the trophy ban began. The B.C. Wildlife Federation, a conservation organization that supports sustainable hunting and fishing, was critical of the change of heart, saying it was "deceived" during the consultation process.
The BCWF said it was told that the NDP was only looking at what to do with parts of bears used as trophies, and that there would be no discussion about hunting in general. The organization previously spoke out about the ban on trophy hunting, saying the rule requiring hunters to throw out parts typically kept as trophies was wasteful.
On Monday, the organization called the process undemocratic and a red flag in terms of government transparency.
"The government set the goal posts, and chose not to consult on grizzly bear hunting, and then changed its mind after consultation," the BCWF said in a statement.
The group also alleged that the polls conducted during the consultation process were funded by anti-hunting organizations and did not accurately represent public interest.
"This is the most disingenuous approach to forming public policy I have ever seen during my career inside and outside government," president Harvey Andrusak said.
The BCWF said it expects closing the hunt outright will result in increased human-bear confrontations and attacks and that taxpayers will be on the hook for managing the bear population. Referencing the auditor general's report, the BCWF said habitat loss is a more important issue to address, and that many of its members feel betrayed.
"While those opposed to grizzly bear hunting may rejoice it is a sad day when emotions trump science," the statement said.