Years ago, I was surprised to learn the grizzly bear is protected in the United States, but in British Columbia it can be killed for sport.
In the absence of legal protection here, they continue to be hunted unsustainably and B.C. government statistics show 430 grizzlies were killed in the province in 2007, and close to 11,000 have been killed since 1975.
Last year’s kill in B.C. was a record, something we only found out when environmental groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, were able to pry the information from the government.
Most of the bears — about 88 per cent — were killed for sport. The rest were killed by poachers and animal-control officers.
The B.C. government argues the grizzly hunt is sustainable, but the methods by which it estimates the numbers of bears are imprecise. In fact, many leading bear biologists say the B.C. government’s numbers — about 17,000 grizzlies — are high and the number may be as low as 6,000. When scientists and researchers are unable to determine accurate population numbers, they often rely on the precautionary principle to ensure sustainable management. This is the idea that, when potential risks exist, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The B.C. government has made some progress in grizzly conservation by setting aside some of its habitat, including the Great Bear Rainforest, as protected areas. But even there, trophy hunting is allowed, and many of the parks and protected areas are likely too small and isolated to maintain the grizzlies’ long-term survival. For this reason, the way we manage the rest of its territory is critical.
As a start, the B.C. government must suspend the controversial grizzly hunt, as Alberta recently did, and must continue to protect large areas of grizzly habitat from resource development, roads, and other human pressures.
British Columbia is unique in that grizzlies still inhabit much of the province, even though they have been eliminated from almost all their historical territory across the planet. That means we have a global responsibility to protect this iconic carnivore.
Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.
Dr. David T. Suzuki is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is the co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver where he lives with his wife and two daughters.