A muddled mess of plans that were never implemented, unclear accountability, lack of organized monitoring and spotty oversight has been at the root of the provincial government’s management of grizzly bear populations for more than two decades, Auditor General Carol Bellringer found in a highly critical report released Tuesday.
The report confirms many of the concerns frequently raised by conservation groups. A lack of firm population numbers. Resource extraction in grizzly bear habitat. Lax regulation of the grizzly bear trophy hunt.
“This is a scathing indictment of the poor management of grizzly bears by successive B.C. governments, going back decades,” said Faisal Moola, director of the David Suzuki Foundation, which requested an audit in 2014 along with University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.
To understand where things went wrong, we’ve got to rewind to 1995 when the government committed to a “Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy” with a goal to maintain healthy grizzly bear populations and the ecosystems they depend on.
But the Environment Ministry and Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources never clarified responsibilities and priorities in terms of actually implementing the strategy.
“Currently, there is no organized inventory and limited monitoring of grizzly bears. We found that one of the reasons this work is not being carried out is that there is no dedicated ministry funding,” says the report.
In other cases, government created plans, such as the strategy for recovering the endangered North Cascades grizzly population, but plans were never implemented.
“In many cases they have not developed policies and procedures necessary to ensure the survival of grizzly bear populations and, when they have had plans, they have failed to effectively implement them,” Moola said.
Government figures estimate there are now 15,000 grizzly bears in B.C. — one of the last areas in North America where grizzly bears live in their natural habitat. But that figure is questioned by some scientists — and nine of the province’s grizzly bear populations are on the verge of elimination.
A century ago, 35,000 grizzly bears lived in B.C, while other populations flourished from Alaska to Mexico to Manitoba, according to the Suzuki Foundation.
Some populations of bears have increased, Bellringer noted, but that is not the result of management strategies.
Habitat Destruction Key Threat to Grizzly Bears
Despite the public controversy that has raged around the grizzly bear trophy hunt, with 250 to 300 bears killed every year, the greatest threat is not hunting, but human activities that degrade grizzly bear habitat, Bellringer wrote.
“For example, there are 600,000 kilometres of resource roads with, on the order of 10,000 kilometres more added each year. This expansion allows greater human access into wilderness areas, which results in illegal killing of grizzly bears and greater human-bear conflicts,” she wrote.
Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Doug Donaldson and Environment Minister George Heyman said the government is accepting all 10 recommendations in the report and will develop a grizzly bear management plan with clear objectives, roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.
The recommendations include improvements in monitoring populations and threats, developing an adequately funded inventory of bears, increased transparency, ensuring the Conservation Officer Service has enough resources to respond to grizzly/human conflicts, developing clear policies and procedures for bear viewing, mitigating the effect of industry on bear habitat, adjusting tools needed to conserve habitat and reviewing wildlife management in B.C.
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