Statistics reveal decade-long increase in B.C. hunting licences for grizzlies and black bears

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      British Columbia’s spring grizzly and black-bear hunts open on April 1. This season, more hunters are expected to take to the province’s forests than in any year in recent memory.

      In 2013-14, the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations issued 1,699 resident hunting licences for grizzly bears, according to data posted online in response to a freedom-of-information request. That’s up 58 percent since 2005-06 (the timeframe for which data was made available).

      The province has, similarly, issued more licences to black-bear hunters. There were 21,836 allotted in 2013-14, up 52 percent from eight years earlier.

      For comparison’s sake, the total number of “resident species licences” increased only 30 percent over this period. (A spokesperson said the ministry could not immediately supply statistics for how many of those licences resulted in a kill.)

      Chris Darimont, a science director with Raincoast Conservation Foundation and assistant professor at the University of Victoria, told the Straight an overall rise isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “What does cause me alarm,” he continued, “is the increases in carnivore kills.”

      Darimont explained there are naturally fewer carnivores compared to plant eaters. Larger predators also take more time to reproduce, and can be more easily affected by habitat destruction. In addition, he noted we often don’t know the true population of a particular animal or the mortality rate a species can tolerate before experiencing unsustainable population declines.

      “That grizzly-bear hunt, in most places in the province, is done in the absence of fieldwork that examines if there really are the number of grizzly bears that [government] models say there are,” he explained. Darimont called attention to a November 2013 peer-reviewed study he co-authored that found the number of B.C. grizzlies killed by hunters has repeatedly exceeded the number targeted by the province.

      A Ministry of Environment website states that in 2012, there were approximately 15,000 grizzly bears in B.C. Darimont countered that rigorous population estimates have only been conducted in about 12 percent of the province.

      In a phone interview, Stephen MacIver, a policy and regulations analyst with the province’s fish and wildlife branch, said numbers of licences issued take into account estimates for animal populations and sustainable mortality rates.

      “Conservation is our number one priority,” he said. “We don’t have hunting seasons on a population that can’t sustain a harvest.”

      MacIver noted that while the number of hunting licences has increased in recent years, it remains lower than all-time highs that peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

      William Housty, coastwatch director of the Heiltsuk First Nation’s Qqs Projects Society, has studied bear populations in B.C. and told the Straight he has noticed how numbers on the ground differ from those in government models.

      “In the areas that I’ve studied [around the Koeye River, which empties just north of Vancouver Island], there has been a decrease in the populations of male and female grizzly bears,” he said. “It’s pretty disturbing that they are increasing the numbers of these licences in B.C.…It’s not a sustainable practice to be hunting at the rates that they are.”

      Peter Wood, director of terrestrial conservation for the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, similarly told the Straight we simply don't know how many bears there are in B.C.

      “I’m not left with a lot of confidence in how that level of hunt is established, “he said. “Overall, there is a lack of information and a lack of transparency around some of these numbers.”

      Wood suggested a major part of the problem is government capacity. “I’ve met a number of the scientists who work for the Ministry of Environment and they do really great work," he said, "but they are totally strapped for cash.”

      According to a Ministry of Environment overview of the Conservation Officer Service (COS) released in response to another freedom-of-information request, more hunting licences have been issued as the COS has experienced a significant increase in its workload. According to the June 2013 memo, in 2004-05, COS saw 5,261 cases filed. Sixty-three percent of those resulted in a ticket or warning. In 2012-13, COS opened 9,375 case files. It issued tickets or warnings in 55 percent of those instances.

      Andrew Weaver, Green party MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, recently introduced a member's bill that takes aim at the trophy killing of grizzlies. In a telephone interview, he said the province's wildlife is increasingly threatened by habitat destruction, which creates a greater need for hunting policies designed on empirical evidence.

      “We need to have a province-wide, science-based, ecosystem-based approach to wildlife management,” he said. “We don’t have that. What the wildlife division in B.C. Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations needs is to be jacked up with a bunch of wildlife biologists to come up with a consultative approach that’s based on science.”

      The province's conservation officers have warned there is a problem.

      "With BC’s population growing and the value of our natural resources increases, our numbers have declined," reads a statement at the website of the Society of British Columbia Conservation Officers. "Inadequate staffing levels is resulting in higher case loads, slower response times and or no response at all. Our motto used to be “Anytime Anywhere” now it is “Sometimes Maybe”. We need more boots on the ground!"

      UpdateB.C. grizzly and black bear deaths stable despite hunting licence surge

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      Lori Waters

      Mar 25, 2015 at 5:02pm

      I have difficulty understanding why decisions of this nature are being made as they are at the provincial level. It does not take a large degree of intelligence to figure out that if one begins with a relatively modest population of 15,000 bears, kills 1700 or so in the first year, then increases the number of kills - even if only by 7.25% per year on average - then it takes very few years for there to be no bears. While this is very 'back of envelope' and does not account for bear population increases, it's still a pretty simple equation to figure out that if you have a limited number of something and you continue to increase the percentages killed of that increasingly smaller number, then you get to zero: in this case, pretty quickly. The government should be calling for a MORATORIUM on hunting these animals - not issuing more licenses.

      Peter Shuman

      Mar 25, 2015 at 5:41pm

      I have a friend who works as a wildlife biologist who was doing some work with the grizzly bear population in Glacier. He told me they utilize drones to monitor the bear as well as use some <a href="">HECS camo</a>, or so he called it, allowing him to get really close to the bear without them knowing. I thought it sounded a little too close for but thought the concept was neat.

      Brandt McCall

      Mar 26, 2015 at 2:18am

      There is nothing noble about killing an animal for sport, killing for entertainment is by definition psychopathic as a person is getting happiness from causing another animal suffering. While watching wildlife with a binoculars or taking a photo is very respectful, and honours the animals. From a moral and economic perspective there is no understandable rationale as to why Christy Clark actively promotes trophy hunting. The economic growth is absolutely in wildlife viewing, taking photos of black and grizzly bears, wolves, cougars, eagles, whales ect... clearly Clark is thus looking out for the best interests of guide outfitters whom donate money to the libs. to protect their twilight industry, rather than the best interests of wildlife being shot, and the province economically. For every trophy hunter there is likely 100 people whom wish to take a photo of a bear, the economic growth is hugely in taking photos. All the best to everyone. I am no raging green hippie by the way, actually an analysts for a large US bank, but I have conscience and killing animals for sport is just wrong, and should be illegal.

      Trish Boyum

      Mar 26, 2015 at 11:45am

      In this article, Mr. Weaver is quoted as saying "“We need to have a province-wide, science-based, ecosystem-based approach to wildlife management,”
      What Mr. Weaver fails to realize or mention is that there is "science-based, ecosystem-based approach to wildlife management" happening right now on the central coast of BC and the BC govt doesn't want to acknowledge that science because it doesn't support what the govt does: the trophy hunters that promise the govt power!

      Louise taylor

      Mar 26, 2015 at 5:13pm

      Dr. Weaver argues that his private member's bill which requires meat removal from grizzly bears, will make killing grizzly bears less attractive to hunters, especially foreign hunters. I think the data stated above contradicts that. The number of licences for black bears have risen dramatically after the meat removal requirement for black bears was introduced in 1994. We need a permanent ban on hunting grizzlies NOW. Hunting and fishing generally should be phased out except for First Nations and others who truly live off the land because our wildlife and marine species generally are declining due to habitat loss, pollution, climate change and in the case of fish of extreme overfishing. Yes, I am a vegetarian treehugger so shot me!

      Lana Evans

      Mar 31, 2015 at 9:04am

      This has got to stop. Goverments have got to stop thinking they control the earth. The creator and mother earth gave us all these gifts and we should look after it. Stop killing our earth