Grizzly bear caught in a wolf trap, freed unharmed near Invermere, October 2016. (B.C. Conservation Officer Service)

Habitat loss greatest threat to B.C. grizzly bears

B.C. NDP government focused on grizzly trophy hunt

Degradation of habitat from forestry, oil and gas development and human settlement is the greatest risk to B.C.’s grizzly bear population, Auditor-General Carole Bellringer says.

While Forests Minister Doug Donaldson has concentrated on ending the grizzly bear trophy hunt and enacting new regulations to enforce it, a new audit of the ministry’s management of the bear population has uncovered more serious problems. Donaldson has announced that the B.C. government will put an end to trophy hunting of grizzlies after this fall’s hunting season.

The forests ministry estimates that about 250 of B.C.’s 15,000 grizzly bears are taken by hunters each year, in a limited-entry lottery hunt open to resident and non-resident hunters. The audit found that from 2006 to 2015, there were 389 bears killed as a result of human-bear conflicts, not related to hunting.

The conflicts are a result of increasing calls about grizzlies to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service. The service revised its procedures to evaluate conflict and not automatically assume the bear should be destroyed, for example if it has entered someone’s yard to eat fruit left on trees.

“An increase in resource roads – 600,000 kms existing and more added every year – also leads to more human-bear conflict, and ultimately grizzly bear deaths,” Bellringer said.

The audit found that grizzly bear populations are increasing in some areas of the province, with the trophy hunt each year adjusted for regional populations. Mike Morris, MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie and a long-time hunter and trapper, said in a letter to Black Press that grizzly numbers are reaching problem levels in some places.

RELATED: Grizzly bear hunt to end Nov. 30

“Fewer people are hunting bears today than in years gone by, leading to increasing populations,” Morris said. “Bears have a devastating effect on ungulate populations and I think have contributed to the drastic decrease in moose, caribou and deer populations. Hunting is an effective wildlife management tool.”

The province is continuing a public consultation on grizzly hunt regulations until Nov. 2.

VIDEO: Auditor’s findings summarized

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