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SFU researcher warns of ‘risky’ Grizzly trophy hunt

The provincial government needs to take a more cautious approach to protecting grizzly bear populations as the fall hunting season gets underway, according to a researcher.

Simon Fraser University biologist Kyle Artelle, a PhD student and Hakai-Raincoast scholar,  is critical of B.C. granting 1,609 authorizations for the fall grizzly hunt (which began Oct. 1), saying the species is at risk of overkill.

Artelle first sounded the alarm last fall, when he and a team of researchers published a report in the Public Library of Science, which concluded grizzlies were over-hunted by the hundreds from 2001-2011 based on government data.

At the time, Artelle urged the government to scale back the number hunting licenses it issues in case estimates of 15,000 grizzlies currently living in B.C. are inaccurate.

“Nothing has changed, if anything it’s become more risky,” Artelle said Monday. “We don’t argue that the best guess for the grizzly population is 15,000. But it’s an estimate, the number could be lower or it could be higher. We can’t know exactly.”

That uncertainty means the government should be taking on “more cautious management systems,” Artelle says.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, however, defends its practices, saying in a statement to Metro that “adjustments are made annually as necessary to ensure the harvest limit does not exceed a certain level over a five-year period.”

Of the 3,633 authorizations granted during the spring and fall grizzly hunts in 2013, just 239 bears were actually killed.

The province also has restrictions on where and how a grizzly can be hunted among the 56 known grizzly bear population units to ensure the hunt is “sustainable and conservative”.

Approximately 35 per cent of the province (in areas where populations are typically lower) is closed to grizzly hunting, the ministry says.

There were 1,458 authorizations issued earlier this year for the spring hunt.

While Artelle acknowledges the majority of hunting authorizations don’t end up as kills, granting 1,609 authorizations this fall still opens the door to an unexpectedly successful hunting season that could set the population back.

He says that, unlike other game, grizzly bears are especially vulnerable to overkill as their reproductive cycles are slow and populations take more time to recover.

Any bears killed during this season must be reported and inspected within 30 days or before Dec. 5.

Harvest data for this year will then determine how many authorizations will be available for 2015.

The trophy hunting of bears continues to be a contentious issue for other reasons as well.

Coastal First Nations have a ban on the activity, which isn’t recognized by government.

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