Recovering Grizzlies in SW BC
Human activities have steadily eroded grizzly bear range in North America since the 1800s when the great bear roamed as far south as central Mexico. Today southern BC represents the line in the sand where we can finally end two centuries of shrinking grizzly bear range.
The latest International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) global assessment of grizzly/brown bear populations identified 11 Critically Endangered populations, three of which are in Canada, all in southwest B.C.: Stein-Nahatlatch, Fountain Valley-Hat Creek, and North Cascades.
Southwest B.C.’s grizzly bears are at risk from the combined effects of habitat loss and fragmentation (mainly by B.C.’s enormous resource roads network) including genetic and demographic isolation, poaching, and human caused mortalities related to poor management of garbage and other attractants and conflicts involving livestock.
Yet efforts to safeguard grizzlies have languished for years. The BC Auditor General’s 2017 Audit of Grizzly Bear Management in B.C. rightly identified “human activities that degrade grizzly bear habitat” as the greatest threat to grizzly bears.
Fortunately, there is broad agreement that action is necessary. Several regional First Nations have led through example (with programs dedicated to grizzly recovery in their territories) and with explicit calls for government action. Land use plans completed for the Sea to Sky region, Okanagan-Shuswap, and Lillooet (draft) have all included provisions for grizzly bear recovery. The 2017 Auditor General’s report on grizzly bear management recommended identifying, and taking action on, populations in need of recovery, and the B.C. government accepted all the Auditor General’s recommendations.
While there is a commitment to developing recovery plans for grizzlies in this region, there is a risk we could lose some of these populations while planning is underway, they’re that close to the edge of viability. But with a few straightforward, key actions, the B.C. government could help ensure the grizzly’s future in the region until the comprehensive plans are implemented. Interim actions consist primarily of strategically managing motorized access in grizzly habitat, transplanting a small number of bears to prevent further inbreeding, and identifying and restoring or enhancing food production sites.
The BC Government agreed in the fall of 2018 to pursue interim actions in partnership with First Nations and environmental organizations. We call on the B.C. government to ensure this work moves quickly enough to ensure there are still grizzlies in southwest BC that are able to benefit from recovery plans once they’re completed.