Border Bears In Danger: New Research Shows Excessive Grizzly Hunting in Canada

Provincial statistics show how trophy hunting is threatening imperiled U.S. bears and jeopardizing one of the world’s last safe havens for grizzlies

VANCOUVER and CHICAGO (April 1, 2010) – The number of grizzly bears killed in British Columbia is regularly exceeding the provincial government’s own limits on bear kills – largely because of trophy hunting, according to new research released on the first day of the hunting season in B.C. The report from the David Suzuki Foundation and NRDC notes that the death toll affects populations on both sides of the national border, as many bears move between protected areas in the United States and parts of B.C., where bears are not protected from trophy hunters, even in provincial parks.

“Grizzly bears will only remain in the U.S. and Canada if we reduce rates of human-caused mortality,” said Louisa Willcox, Senior Wildlife Advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The future of this globally iconic species depends on the types of decisions we make today about whether they can be hunted for trophy, and how we manage the lands they live in.”

In a report released today by the David Suzuki Foundation and Natural Resources Defense Council, statistics show that the B.C. government’s limits on human-caused grizzly deaths were exceeded in 63 % of local grizzly bear populations (called Grizzly Bear Population Units) at least once over a five-year period. In some cases, the number of grizzlies – which no longer exist or are at risk of extinction in parts of the world – killed by humans was more than double the number deemed allowable by the government.

“Held up against the government’s own estimates of what is sustainable, the number of grizzlies being killed in British Columbia’s regions is excessive,” said Dr. Faisal Moola, director of science and terrestrial conservation at the David Suzuki Foundation. “What’s even more concerning is that our research shows this over killing is happening year after year in many parts of B.C., and nothing is being done to stop it.”

The B.C. government sets limits each year on how many grizzly bears can be killed by humans. This limit, along with a population estimate, is used by government wildlife managers to figure out how many grizzly bears can be taken by hunters without adversely impacting the health of local populations.

Using government figures, the report compares the actual number of bears killed by humans to the allowable human-caused mortality limits set by the government between 2004 and 2008. In many parts of the province, including the transboundary Flathead region, allowable kill limits were exceeded year after year. Trophy hunting, which accounts for 88 per cent of all human-case grizzly deaths in B.C., was largely to blame. Excessive human-caused bear mortality along the US/Canada border poses a risk to the future of the threatened grizzly in the lower 48 states, which rely on bear populations in Canada for survival.

British Columbia is one of the last safe havens for grizzlies in North America, although the bears are increasingly threatened by human activity such as resource extraction and trophy hunting. Early findings from the report released in February identified more than 60 provincial parks where grizzly bears are being hunted for trophy.

In the report, DSF and NRDC call on the B.C. government to close existing loopholes in the Wildlife Act that allows for grizzlies to be shot by trophy hunters in B.C.’s parks, and to establish large no-kill zones where hunting is prohibited and bears can live unthreatened. Their recommendations have been endorsed by grizzly bear experts from the United States and Canada, who sent a letter to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell today urging him to act on the report’s findings.

“Canadians can learn a lot from the history of bear management in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. The ban on hunting in the parks has been essential to maintaining grizzlies in these last strongholds for grizzlies in the lower 48 states,” Willcox said.

Grizzly bears in the United States are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, which means they are protected from trophy hunting and other threats. Before grizzlies were listed as endangered in 1975, the bears had nearly disappeared from the lower 48 states. Conversely, threatened grizzlies in BC receive no legal protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Nearly 80 per cent of British Columbians oppose trophy hunting, according to public opinion polling. More than 50,000 people in Canada and the United States have written to Premier Gordon Campbell and Environment Minister Barry Penner, calling on the government to end the trophy hunting of bears in BC.