The B.C. government is proposing to open up grizzly hunting next season in two areas where it's now banned, despite a recent study that concluded the government is underestimating the number of bears killed each year and recommended a more cautious approach.
Two proposals, posted on the Ministry of Forests website in November, suggest opening grizzly bear management units, or MUs, in the Kootenay and Cariboo regions for limited grizzly bear hunting next spring.
The Kootenay units were closed in 2011 as a result of female grizzly bear kills exceeding a government-set threshold over a five-year period. The Cariboo units have been closed since 2000, when the number of bears killed by hunters and in "conflict" kills – when animals shot by ranchers or put down by wildlife officers after becoming "problem" bears – exceeded limits for the area.
The proposals say populations in the areas have recovered enough to support a hunt.
"When we consider opening a hunt, it has to meet a certain number of tests," Andrew Wilson, director of fish and wildlife with B.C.'s Forests Ministry, said on Thursday. "And we feel in these instances, the tests have been passed."
Kyle Artelle is not convinced.
Mr. Artelle, a PhD student at Simon Fraser University and a biologist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, was one of the authors of a November report that concluded grizzly-bear kill limits were being exceeded in many parts of the province.
"In the review, we found really compelling evidence that more cautious management of the species is warranted," Mr. Artelle said. "And here we are a couple of weeks later and the government is now [proposing] increasing the hunt. So they are not taking a more cautious approach; in fact you could argue they are taking a less cautious approach."
In the November report, researchers used B.C. government data to calculate that the number of bears killed exceeded government targets in 19 per cent of the cases covered by the report, which looked at figures from from 2001 to 2011. "Over-mortalities" ranged from one to 24 bears and were more common in management regions with fewer bears.
The November report did not take into account additional data, including DNA studies the province uses to set hunting quotas, Mr. Wilson said, adding that provincial data show the overall number of bears is on the rise and that mature males grizzlies are the ones being killed by hunters.
"Those are things that don't really support the notion that we are perennially over-harvesting," he said.
There has been a government-sanctioned grizzly bear hunt in B.C. for decades, interrupted only by a moratorium in 2001.
The province defends hunting as a recognized outdoor recreational opportunity and cites grizzly conservation measures that include a ban on killing bears less than two years old. It also insists its grizzly management plan is based on science-based harvest management practices.
Trophy hunting is contentious in B.C. and other jurisdictions. In B.C., the Coastal First Nations, representing nine First Nation groups, has announced a ban on trophy hunting for all species of bears in their region, despite the province claiming it has jurisdiction.
Alberta suspended its grizzly bear hunt in 2006.
In the U.S., where grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species in 1975, the number of grizzly bears in Montana has increased in recent years. A draft conservation strategy now under review could include a limited hunt.
A comment period on the proposed openings in B.C. ends Dec. 20. The province would make a final decision early in 2014.
By the numbers:
15,000: estimated number of grizzly bears in B.C.
297: average number of grizzly bears harvested in B.C. per year between 1976 and 2009
57: number of discrete grizzly bear population units in B.C.
65: rough percentage of the province open to grizzly bear hunting
$15,000 to $25,000: cost per bear for a guided grizzly hunt for hunters from outside of B.C.
1976: B.C. implements compulsory inspection of human-caused grizzly mortalities
1993: B.C. imposes trade ban on bear paws, gall bladders and genitalia
1996: B.C. introduced limited entry hunt, or lottery system, for grizzly bears
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