Grizzly Bears Essay, Research Paper
Grizzly bears in British Columbia represent many things to different people. To a large percentage of the population, they represent all that is still wild about our province, a link to the past before humans came and logged much of the forests, put roads over the mountains, and dammed the rivers. This view of grizzly bears as somewhat of a ‘flagship’ species is reflected in the naming by environmental groups of the large wilderness area of the Central Coast as the Great Bear Rainforest. Certainly there are many other species that inhabit the coastal rainforests from the Upper Squamish Valley north to the Alaska Panhandle, such as blacktail deer, Pacific salmon, and grey wolves, but it is the grizzly bear that is the symbol that is attached to this area by people the world over. It is the presence of healthy grizzly bear populations that displays a preservation and care for our forests to the world, and it is for this reason that there are strong pressures on those who manage grizzly bear populations in B.C. to protect them from future declines in population and range. This is a very complex task, as grizzly bears have very strict habitat requirements, and pressure from all sorts of encroaching developments require care to be taken in the planning process. Today in British Columbia grizzly bears do still exist in viable wild populations throughout much of their historic range. Prior to European settlement in British Columbia ca. 1793, grizzly bears ranged throughout the entire mainland of B.C., save for areas of icefield. While much of their historical habitat has been extensively altered, grizzly bears still occupy the coastal areas of mainland B.C. from just north of Powell River all the way to the Alaska Panhandle. The entire northern half of the province contains large tracts of suitable habitat, as do the Rocky, Purcell, and Selkirk Mountains. The central interior plateau area of the province from Quesnel north to Prince George still contains depressed numbers of bears, while the Southern Interior and South Coast/Lower Mainland no longer has grizzly bear populations (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks ,1995). The institution charged with managing grizzly bears in British Columbia is the Wildlife Branch of the Ministry of Environment, Land, and Parks. The Wildlife Branch has an official mandate relating to its management of grizzly bears, which was published in the British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy in June of 1995. The mandate that is given is “….to ensure the continued existence of grizzly bears and their habitats for future generations.” (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). This is a very wide ranging mandate, and when coupled with the first of the four goals stated under the mandate, “To maintain in perpetuity the diversity and abundance of grizzly bears and the ecosystems on which they depend throughout British Columbia.” (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995), it is apparent that this is a goal easier said than done. The Wildlife Branch of MELP participates in both the direct management of bear populations (ie. hunting) and in indirect management processes such as land use planning that affects grizzly bear habitats. In direct management processes the Wildlife Branch has more power than in other processes that involve more user groups. Hunting pressures represent the largest direct issue that the Wildlife Branch deals with, and it is with hunting regulations that the Wildlife Branch wields the most power. In 1996, grizzly bear hunting in British Columbia moved to a limited entry basis known as LEH permits, or limited entry hunting permits. This process allows the Wildlife Branch to control how many permits are issued on an annual basis, in theory allowing the total kill to be monitored. This option is available only to residents of British Columbia, while non residents must hire a licensed guide outfitter who has also been issued a permit. According to the Grizzly Bear Harvest Management Policy, released in 1999, harvests are determined as follows: allowable harvest = (max allowable total human caused mortality)-(estimate of unknown human caused mortality)-(estimated known non-hunting human caused mortalities that are predicted to occur based on past experience). The maximum total human caused mortality can range from 3% to 6%, depending on the average habitat capability for the area as determined by the Regional Wildlife Section Head (RWSH). The habitat capability is used to estimate populations based on the potential that an area is assigned in terms of supporting grizzly bears. These habitat carrying capacities are reviewed every three years by the RWSH in conjunction with the provincial Large Carnivore Research Biologist. Prior to 1989, the annual allowable harvest was solely based on being 5% of the provincial population, but with concerns of concentrations of overharvesting, a review was conducted in 1989, and it was determined that during the period 1984-1988, 52 of 118 management units inhabited by grizzlies had total kills exceeding the annual allowable harvest. After this a guideline was established throughout the province that set the allowable harvest from all sources at about 4% of the total population (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1999). Limited entry hunts for grizzly bears are allowed throughout the province’s management regions except for regions 2 and 8 (the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan, respectively). Since LEH was implemented in 1996, the total grizzly bear harvest by hunters has been under 300. In 1999, a total of 154 grizzlies were legally killed by residents, and another 110 bears were killed by non-residents, which totals 264 grizzlies taken legally by hunters, and in 1998 only 207 bears were killed (Brooke, 1999). An additional 82 bears were reported killed for posing a threat to people or property, although it is certain many more went unreported (Pynn, 2000). These harvest numbers do show a decline from traditional hunter harvest. For example, from 1965 to 1970, the total legal hunting kill ranged from 340 to 460, with a total legal kill of 2440 grizzly bears over this 6 year period (Finegan, 1971). Additionally, the annual average kill was 350 up until 1992 (Brooke, 1999). The total number of illegal and unreported kills of grizzly bears remains unknown , but estimates have put it anywhere from 25% to 100% of the known kill, depending on the area and access (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). One other significant factor affecting some grizzly bear populations in B.C. is the translocation of bears. In 1973, the B.C. government , along with Alberta, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana established the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which was charged with managing cross border populations of grizzlies. The IGBC recognised that , with the exception of Yellowstone Park, the lower 48 states could not maintain viable populations of grizzly bears without help from Canadian provinces via habitat and bears(British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). Habitat mapping was conducted in the 4 areas that were identified as containing suitable habitat ( Northern Continental Divide, Cabinet-Yaak, Southern Selkirks, and the North Cascades), and British Columbia has also relocated several bears from healthy populations to these regions. Excluding the North Cascades, the Canadian portions of these ecosystems still maintain fairly strong populations, some of which have been relocated to U.S. portions of the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem to augment the populations in the southern reaches. Grizzly bear populations in the North Cascades area have been severely reduced, so in an attempt to augment populations there the Wildlife Branch relocated 10 bears from the Lillooet Valley (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995) . This met with some success, but one adult male who was radio collared was observed to have returned to his home range by way of the Chilliwack River valley, crossing the TransCanada highway and the Fraser, and heading north through Golden Ears Park. This information could be very important in determining future land use processes involving grizzly bears. While decisions regarding hunting and relocation of grizzly bears falls under the jurisdiction of the Wildlife Branch, decisions involving the management of grizzly bear habitat are much more complex. Maintaining high quality grizzly bear habitat is of the utmost importance to the long term viability of grizzly bears, as they have very specific requirements that must be met in order to avoid alienation of bears. First off, grizzly bears require vast amounts of land to live upon, usually in the 50 to 100 square km range, and sometimes reaching up to nearly 900 square km in less productive habitats (Thornton, 1999). The Khutzeymateen Valley, which is believed to contain the highest densities of grizzlies in B.C., was shown to have had densities of 16.4-23.3 square km/bear (not including young) throughout the year (MacHutcheon, A.G., et al. 1993). This study area is an ecosystem in near pristine condition, but in areas where impacts have been greater, bears will avoid developed areas and require a greater range. It is for this reason that the preservation of intact tracts of habitat are crucial to the survival of grizzly bears. The majority of the land base that grizzly bears are present on in B.C. is administered by the B.C. Ministry of Forests (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995), and to a lesser extent areas have also been influenced by government departments such as the Ministry of Highways, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. In 1995, the Ministry of Environment, Land, and Parks published the British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, which was designed to be a blueprint for managing affairs regarding grizzly bear conservation in British Columbia, and ultimately to reverse the loss of bear numbers and habitat that had been occurring over the past several hundred years. Three main areas of improvement were identified in the Strategy that were needed to secure the long term viability of the grizzlies:The conservation of grizzly bear habitat, the establishment of an independent Grizzly Bear Scientific Advisory Committee, and improvements in research and population inventory methods (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). The tool that is to be used by the Wildlife Branch in the protection of key grizzly bear habitat is the establishment of Grizzly Bear Management Areas (known as GBMA’s). This initiative is designed to preserve a network of key, relatively intact grizzly bear ecosystems as special management areas. Once an area is to be designated as a GBMA, it can then be managed to limit activities that are detrimental to grizzly bear populations. Once an area has been designated as a GBMA, it will be closed to grizzly bear hunting, it will control other recreational activities that could conflict with grizzly bears, and if possible it will be linked to other GBMAs by corridors that contain habitat necessary for grizzly bears. Selection of areas as GBMAs will be occur with priority to areas that contain suitable habitat, areas that are in close proximity to existing protected areas, and areas where grizzly populations are threatened (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995) . While in theory the idea of GBMAs sound like an effective management tool for conserving grizzly bear populations, the actual designation of an area as a GBMA must be done through the opportunities within existing land use initiatives, such as Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs), Protected Areas Strategy (PAS), and the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE). In areas where any of these processes are occurring or proposed, Wildlife Branch staff may provide relevant information and, if desired, recommend the establishment of a GBMA through the landuse designation process. These processes require public consultation and many different stakeholder groups would have to be included in the decision. Representatives of First Nations groups as well as public stakeholder groups such as the B.C. Wildlife Federation (a notably pro-hunting group), the Guide Outfitters Association of BC, the federation of BC Naturalists, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC would all have to be included (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995), in addition to local interest groups and environmental groups such as the Rainforest Conservation Society. Clearly within this gathering there would be very different viewpoints on grizzly bear management, with some of these groups at opposite ends of the spectrum on some issues (most notably hunting). Once all of these interests were established, it would be the decision of the LRMP or the CORE table itself, not the Wildlife Branch, to designate a given area as a GBMA. In areas where there have been no land use planning processes occurring, and there are not any proposed, the Wildlife Branch may only propose a no-hunting zone after consulting with local interests. These no-hunting zones would not be protected from any other types of activities such as resource extraction and industrial road building, as well as recreational activities such as camping and skiing. While closing an area to hunting does require consultation by the Wildlife Branch, a step could usually be taken unilaterally be the Branch if it was determined to be in the best conservation interests. The creation of GBMAs through land use planning processes is an important step in conserving grizzlies according to the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, but due to the long-winded nature of the processes, as well as the possible lack of consensus amongst stakeholders, other management processes are identified as being necessary in order to better protect grizzlies (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). The Forest Practices Code contains a provision that gives special attention to Red and Blue listed species (identified as endangered/threatened and sensitive/vulnerable species, respectively. Special species ‘guides’ are in the process of being completed for 104 animal species (including grizzlies) that will contribute to a special Forest Practices Code field guide for grizzly bears. A provincial review of all Timber Supply Areas is also given as an avenue for the protection of sensitive grizzly bear populations, according to the Ministry’s Background Report (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). A second key component of the 1995 Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy is the establishment of an independent Grizzly Bear Scientific Advisory Committee (GBSAC ) to advise the MELP on conservation issues regarding grizzly bears. The GBSAC was charged with advising government on issues such as research priorities, inventory priorities, hunting regulations, population status and trends, new and emerging biological and ecological information, and international considerations (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). The Committee was formed in 1995 out of 12 members who were provincial, national, and international grizzly bear experts, as well as First Nations representatives, appointed by the Minister of Environment, Land, and Parks. This committee was to meet regularly to provide an objective, third party opinion on matters affecting grizzly bears, and then report to the Minister directly. On October 1 of this year the first Committee was dissolved, and a second committee has yet to have been appointed for the next five years. Since the Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy was completed in 1995 a great deal of effort has been put into analysing the success of the measures taken by the provincial government to stabilise its grizzly bear populations. Establishment of conservation areas has been occurring as part of the provincial government’s pledge to protect at least 12% of its total land base (which has occurred just recently). The Khutzeymateen Provincial Park was established in 1995 as Canada’s first park set aside specifically for grizzly bears and their habitat (www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore, 2000). It is located north of Prince Rupert on the North Coast, and is comprised of an intact old growth valley that holds a 443 sq. km Class A park, with additional no hunting zones surrounding the core park bringing the total protected area to 3850 sq. km (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995). Further down the coast, the Kitlope River valley is a 3887 sq. km Protected Area that is co-managed with the Haisla First Nation. This park encompasses the world’s largest intact coastal temperate rainforest, but in the government’s Background Report, it states that “….grizzly bear populations are not high…” but that it “…represents a significant watershed that might serve as a grizzly bear conservation area.” (British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks,1995, p. 35). The largest conservation area that has been established in British Columbia, and the one that shows the most promise for establishing a large enough area that does not isolate small populations of grizzly bears is the Muskwa-Kechika region of the Northern Rockies. In 1999, 1.1 million hectares of land were protected as a provincial park, with an additional 666, 000 hectares added through the Mackenzie LRMP this year (Pynn, 2000). The protected area of the Muskwa-Kechika prohibits mining activities that have threatened the area, as well as blocking a proposed mining access road from Fort Ware north to the Alaska highway. This protected wilderness area has been trumpeted by the provincial government as a major step in linking protected areas for grizzly bears from the Rockies to the coast, although part of that corridor of protected area is very narrow areas along the Stikine River. Other areas identified as having potential to serve as GBMAs are the Mitchell Lake/Niagara PA (which connects Bowron and Wells Gray parks), Sustut-Babine, and Koeye-Namu. With the additions to protected areas in B.C. now at 12% of the total land base, it is possible that government and industry could stop creating new protected areas, yet for grizzly bears, the productive low elevation rainforest that they favor on the coast has less than 6% protected (Thomas, 1998). A great deal of the new protected areas were classified as high alpine rock and ice, which offers very little use to grizzly bears, or many other species for that matter. Land use decisions such as the creation of the Khutzeymateen sanctuary must be continued if the grizzly bear is not to be reduced to small, isolated populations which will be even more sensitive to encroachment and the so called ‘edge effect’ (Jeo, Sanjayan, and Sizemore,1999). Unfortunately, it appears that the 1995 Conservation Strategy could quite possibly do just that. An independent report in 1998 by three American scientists concluded that the strategy was likely to “…reduce grizzly populations into islands of habitat or refugia from which large, wide-ranging carnivores like the grizzly are the first to disappear” (Hume, 2000). The government policy of establishing GBMAs will likely accomplish this unless the strategy is revised to explicitly provide adequate corridors between the protected ares, as well as concentrating on protecting areas of greater size that can provide the vast amounts of space required to sustain grizzly populations. The existing strategy relies too heavily on local land use planning processes to designate areas as GBMAs, when what is needed is an effective, independent committee that can report directly to the Minister of ELP in order to recommend the required areas to be protected. The Grizzly Bear Scientific Advisory Committee that was established in 1995 should have been a blueprint for the type of action needed, but due to powers beyond its control, it was largely ineffective. When the GBSAC was established, it was to provide objective advice on management issues regarding grizzly bears. As time passed on, it became apparent that high level government interests within the Wildlife Branch were only interested in maintaining the status quo, and when the committee did attempt to make recommendations that were different than the government’s agenda, they were quashed. When the GBSAC opposed a ski resort development in critical grizzly habitat, the advice was ignored by the NDP government, and instead an internally drafted paper by a Wildlife Branch staff member supporting the development was issued (Hume, 2000). Government interference proved to be so intense that many of the panel members, including Wayne McCrory, who is one of B.C.’s leading grizzly biologists, are considering declining reappointment on the new committee due to frustrations from their ineffectiveness in enacting change. Wildlife Branch interests have had a history of taking actions that are seen as not being in the grizzly’s best interests for many years now. One of the most contentious issues affecting the grizzly bear hunt in British Columbia has been the accuracy of population estimates used in determining the total allowable annual kills. In 1989, external pressures on the Wildlife Branch concerned about a chronic overkill of bears, a fact that was backed up in the government own Background Report in 1995 that stated that from 1984-1988, 52 of 118 Management Units had total kills over the maximum allowable annual harvest. A new guideline was adopted stating that the total provincial harvest level should be reduced from 5% to 4%, but at the same time the Wildlife Branch revised its population estimates for the grizzlies, nearly doubling on paper the population to between 10,000 and 13,000 grizzlies (Thornton, 1998). Instead of reducing the number of grizzlies harvested, it actually may have increased the total number of kills. Independent scientists continue to estimate the population at 4,000 to 7,000 bears province wide, and it seems likely the actual populations does in fact lie somewhere below the government estimates. The reason for government overestimating populations is due to the poor methodology used to determine populations. Local biologists from each region were left to assess the number of bears that each habitat could potentially support, and adjust estimates accordingly. No field checks are actually done for the majority of populations, and the Ministry itself even admits that population totals were based on ‘best guesses’ of local biologists (Thornton, 1998). Since hunting regulations are based on population estimates, uncertainty over numbers has led to questions about the hunt that continues today. A manual count of the Limited Entry Hunting Regulations Synopsis for this hunting season shows that a total of 1151 LEH permits were available for fall and spring hunts. Without going into statistical models, this shows a lack of adherence being paid to following the precautionary principle. Even according to the top end of the Wildlife Branch’s estimates, this allows for permits to be issued for nearly 9% of the province’s bears to be legally killed, without accounting for non-hunting mortalities. Also, in MU 6-14 which encompasses the Ishkheenickh River valley which borders on the Khutzeymateen, 15 LEH permits are available. According to the Khutzeymateen Valley Grizzly Bear Study completed in 1993, this valley is easily accessible to the Khutzeymateen via a low elevation pass in the Khuzeymateen’s headwaters. Given the press that has been given to the creation of the Khutzeymateen as a grizzly bear sanctuary, it does not seem prudent to allow a hunt within such close proximity to the Khutzeymateen. In order to effectively conserve grizzly bear populations into the next century, there are institutional barriers that must be overcome to effect any positive change. A shift from the current frame of thought of trying to meet the estimated minimum needs of the grizzly bears to a school of thinking that will provide hunting regulations and habitat protection that is more than enough to protect the bears. The current framework of the Wildlife Branch in MELP does not provide the opportunity for efficient regulation, as the Wildlife Branch does not have the authority required to compete against the many other interest groups that have a stake in grizzly bear habitat. There needs to be a better working relationship between the Ministry of Forests and the Wildlife Branch with regards to logging practices in order to provide adequate habitat in areas that are not within any officially protected area. Management of a species such as the grizzly bear that has requirements that are not compatible with most types of human activities provide a challenge for modern management institutions in that the multi stakeholder process that land use planning involves does not favor the protection of grizzlies. If habitat is to be genuinely protected, it cannot be subject to compromise between groups such as resource extraction, road building, and to a lesser extent tourism. Other than in a few select instances such as the Khutzeymateen, it is unlikely that many land use decisions will be made to set aside large tracts of productive land exclusively for grizzly bear habitat, and more than likely the majority of grizzly bear habitat will continue to be subject to encroachment from commercial and recreational uses. If the provincial government is committed to keeping a relatively stable and widespread grizzly bear population throughout the province, it must work to ensure that the few protected areas large enough to protect grizzly bear ecosystems are added to and connected to ensure biodiversity and to avoid isolation of populations which will eventually lead to extirpation (see Fig. 1). An effective independent panel must be in place to advise the province on matters affecting grizzly bears, and the province must listen to suggestions that are in the interests of conserving bears if it is to have any chance of saving the grizzlies. Finally, the grizzly bear hunt in B.C., that is already the center of controversy, must be scaled back dramatically, so that there is no question that the hunt is not endangering the long term viability of grizzly bears in B.C.. This would also send a strong signal to the international community that B.C. is committed to conserving grizzly bears, instead of the current system that claims to be bear friendly but in reality pays only lip service to taking strong action. Most likely the only way that sweeping, effective changes will take place will be if the economy in B.C. eventually moves away from being so resource dependent, because if the government continues to have to choose between grizzly bears and logging, mining, and farming, the grizzlies don’t stand a chance. Grizzly Bear Management Institutions in B.C.
References British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks(1995), Conservation of Grizzly Bears in British Columbia:Background Report, Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks, Victoria, B.C. British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks(2000), British Columbia Limited Entry Hunting Regulations Synopsis, Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks, Victoria, B.C. British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks(1995), A Future for the Grizzly: British Columbia Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy, Ministry of Environment, Lands, and Parks, Victoria,