News / Vancouver

Province has 'little to no idea' how many bears live in B.C., says scientist

The B.C. government’s claim the grizzly bear hunt it regulates twice a year is based on sound science is absurd, according to a conservation scientist at the University of Victoria.

When news broke Tuesday a B.C.-born NHL player had shot and killed an adult male grizzly in an estuary on the province’s central coast in May – an act coastal First Nations said violated a year-old tribal law banning trophy hunting in their traditional territories – the province insisted sport hunting of grizzlies was a legal and sustainable practice based on “the best available science.”

An emailed letter from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations stated some 300 grizzlies were harvested every year from a population estimated at 15,000 animals.

But an assistant professor in the department of geography at UVic called those estimates crude and outdated.

“Very notably, the models from the coast don’t include salmon as a parameter. That’s absurd, that sort of omission,” said Chris Darimont, who’s in the process of publishing a peer-reviewed paper on bear populations after a season of field work on the central B.C. coast. “We know that grizzlies in particular are closely coupled to how much salmon there are in ecosystems. We know with clear certainty that there’s far less salmon now. So we can infer really confidently that there are far less bears.”

All the B.C. government can know for sure, said Darimont, is how many bear tags it gives out to hunters: 3,786 limited authorizations were issued this year across the province.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment said Wednesday its most recent update to grizzly population estimates across B.C. was done in April 2012.

Official remain confident their methodologies are accurate as based on systematic aerial surveys, direct sampling and statistical modelling.

A councilor from the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation called inviting this many hunters to roam in B.C.’s coastal forests irresponsible and devastating to his nation’s fledgling ecotourism industry.

“We’re trying to develop a long-term sustainable industry in tourism, where, in my community, it’s providing about 40 jobs,” said Doug Neasloss. “And then the province issues tags for hunters to come and shoot the very same bears that we’re trying to view.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs, called the bear hunt “barbaric” and urged the public to pressure Premier Christy Clark to reexamine the practice.

Public support strong

A new public opinion poll suggests overwhelming public support for the year-old ban on trophy hunting for bears in central British Columbia.

The telephone poll, conducted by McAllister Opinion Research for the Coastal First Nations Bear Working Group between June 13th and 25th, asked 805 adults across the province for their view on trophy hunting.

It found 87 per cent of respondents agreed hunting should be banned in the Great Bear Rainforest and 80 per cent of respondents were in favour of a province-wide ban on grizzly hunting.

Current provincial regulations permit trophy hunting for bears each spring and fall.

“If I have to stand between feeding bears and people with guns, I will,” said Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation councilor Doug Neasloss, who also works as a bear-viewing guide on B.C.’s central coast.

The poll’s margin of error was +/-3.5 percent, nineteen times out of twenty.

More on