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B.C. lacks grizzly bear management plan: Auditor general

Auditor General Carol Bellringer finds habitat loss is a greater threat to grizzly bears than hunting but province doesn’t have an adequate plan to protect iconic animal.

A grizzly bear fishes along a river in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park near Bella Coola, B.C.

Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS

A grizzly bear fishes along a river in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park near Bella Coola, B.C.

Habitat loss, not hunting, is the greatest threat to British Columbia’s grizzly bears but the province doesn’t have a plan to adequately protect the iconic animal.

That was the finding of Auditor General Carol Bellringer’s latest audit of grizzly bear management in the province, which was released Tuesday.

An estimated 15,000 grizzly bears live in B.C. but the audit found that count is unreliable because “inventory is not being done in an organized fashion.”

When it comes to managing the bears, Bellringer’s audit found there wasn’t much that the ministries of Environment and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations were doing in an organized fashion.

“There is no grizzly bear management plan to provide priorities and clear accountabilities,” the audit states.

The province recently introduced a trophy-hunting ban on grizzlies, which takes effect next year, and all hunting of the animal remains a contentious issue.

However, Bellringer found habitat loss plays a bigger role, especially in the nine areas where local populations are deemed at risk.

“In the end, we found that the greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting, rather the human activities that degrades and diminishes grizzly bear habitats,” Bellringer told media.

Government has taken steps to protect some grizzly habitats, but the audit found there’s been little or no follow-up to see if those actions have worked.

“Many of our expectations were not met,” said Bellringer.

Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson said the government would accept all of Bellringer’s recommendations.

“We are going to develop a provincial grizzly bear management plan,” Donaldson confirmed.

“We accept all 10 recommendations. [The audit] is a great foundational document for the work that is ahead of us.”

Bellringer said hunting was an “emotional” issue for those offering input during the audit, but said it was just “one component” impacting grizzly populations.

Donaldson says the province isn’t planning to revisit the issue.

“As the auditor general’s report point out, the greatest threat to grizzly bears is not hunting,” he said. “We’re going to focus our resources on developing a provincial grizzly bear management plan.

Environment Minister George Heyman said government is also planning to increase the number of conservation officers in the province next year and is developing species-at-risk legislation to protect vulnerable populations.

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