Brian Horejsi says the fate of the grizzly-bear populations in Granby and Gladstone provincial parks in southwest British Columbia won't be known for 50 to 100 years.
But the land-use decisions that will determine their fate are being made now – and it doesn't look good.
Dr. Horejsi, a wildlife scientist and forester, thinks that unless government changes course and restricts logging in a wildlife corridor that links the two parks, grizzlies will slowly fade away in the mountainous landscape north of Grand Forks.
"There may still be an occasional grizzly bear in the ecosystem in that time frame," he writes. "But like the Cascade grizzly bears of Washington and British Columbia, which number fewer than the fingers on your hand, the Granby bears will be non-functional."
There are currently about 85 grizzlies in what is known as the Granby population. They roam the forests in and around the two provincial parks. The park land is protected, but outside the boundaries, the forest is being cut up into smaller and smaller pieces.
In a report written for Friends and Residents of the North Fork, a conservation group, Dr. Horejsi says the bear population is already marginal because a breeding population of 100 to 400 bears is needed to assure long-term survival.
Dr. Horejsi believes the Granby population can be saved, but to do that the wildlife corridor between the two parks would have to be restored and future logging restricted in Lynch Creek North – a 6,000-hectare wilderness area adjacent to Gladstone Park.
"It is today that the course for the future is being established," he writes, stating that the plan by the government's BC Timber Sales department to log Lynch Creek North poses a clear threat to the bears.
Dr. Horejsi, who for 40 years has studied bear, moose, caribou and sheep populations throughout B.C., Yukon and Alberta, says the forest ecosystem around the parks has been "severely fractured," and the bears are being left with too little space to survive.
"The reality is that the Granby-Gladstone grizzly-bear population and the landscape it depends on are in crisis," he states.
What can be done?
"A serious effort toward grizzly-bear habitat recovery would be total withdrawal of road building and forest-management activities in landscape units … along the Granby River," he writes. "The effort can, and should be kicked off by withdrawing any plan to log the Lynch Creek 6,000-hectare habitat block."
Margaret Steele, a spokesperson for Friends and Residents of the North Fork, said the group commissioned the report by Dr. Horejsi in the hope a recognized grizzly-bear expert would get the attention of BC Timber Sales.
The conservationists have been arguing for years that Lynch Creek North should be made part of Gladstone Park. And they want the government to go beyond that – to commit to restoring the larger wildlife corridor, where logging has already occurred, that lies between the two parks.
But Ms. Steele says BC Timber Sales has so far ignored those requests and is drawing up plans for more logging.
In 2000, the provincial government promised to develop a recovery strategy for the Granby grizzly population. Instead, in 2011 it issued a formal "Order" that makes the needs of industry a priority in the area.
"Although the Order is intended to provide additional protection for the conservation of grizzly bears, the requirements under this Order are assumed not to restrict timber supply above other existing objectives or current management practices," it states.
In other words, the objective of the government, as the policy now stands, is to get the timber out – and not to save the bears.