A coalition of conservation groups launched a new campaign Tuesday (Sept. 24) aimed at pushing the provincial government into implementing a longstanding plan to save the region’s grizzly bear population from disappearance.
The Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative’s mission, as outlined in a press release, is to “protect and recover threatened grizzly bears and safeguard adequate habitat in southwest B.C. through science-based planning and community involvement.”
The coalition’s goals are parallel to Victoria’s 2008 Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP). In that document, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MOF) lists the conservation of grizzly habitat and the reduction of grizzly mortality due to human interaction as two of its objectives.
With a large amount of private and publicly-funded research that’s been conducted since the LRMP was published, the group said it’s time to put the plan into action, as current conservation efforts are being outpaced by development projects.
“Because the populations are declining, we didn’t want to see them wink out before the plans are done,” said the group’s field coordinator, Johnny Mikes.
“We have a unique opportunity to save grizzlies in southwest B.C., but it may be our last. Through years of research, scientists know what these bears need to survive and thrive, but the province must make grizzly bear recovery planning and implementation a priority.”
When asked if a plan for implementation of the LRMP was in place, an MOF spokesperson replied in an email that the province has worked closely with the private and environmental sectors in support of grizzly bear recovery in southwestern B.C. since the LRMP’s release in 2008.
The ministry noted that all five grizzly populations identified by Coast to Cascades are completely closed to hunting, and that all significant development proposals in these habitats must take into account the impacts on the bears. The ministry added that Innergex’s Upper Lillooet Hydro Project, located northwest of Pemberton, is required to participate in the development of a regional grizzly bear monitoring program, and that the company has contributed $300,000 to the project.
However Coast to Cascades thinks more can be done, pointing to the province’s own statistics, which state that humans have killed three-breeding aged females from the remaining 24 bears of the Stein-Nahatlatch grizzly population near Lillooet since 2006.
“In such small grizzly populations every bear is critically important, particularly females. Each dead female means that all her potential offspring are also lost — the very animals that will help these populations recover,” said Allen McEwan of the Pemberton Wildlife Association, a member of the Coast to Cascades group.
In all, the group comprises of the Pemberton Wildlife Association, Sierra Club of BC, Conservation Northwest, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, AWARE, BC Spaces for Nature, Lillooet Naturalist Society, BC Nature and Whistler Naturalists.
Of primary importance for the group is reducing the number of human-caused deaths to grizzlies, but also reconnecting fragmented grizzly habitats with one another. Backcountry roads bisecting female grizzly bear home ranges can interfere with a bear’s ability to access critical foods and raise her cubs, it said. Habitat loss and fragmentation also increases the potential for human interaction, often resulting in more dead bears.
“In the absence of a plan for these bears, it’s more likely that a development that comes along is less likely to be sensitive to the needs of grizzly bears,” said the release. “In a lot of cases the bears don’t have a lot of leeway. In some cases they’ve been pushed back to the far end of the valley, and if they are pushed any further it’s up into the rock and ice.”
Out of nine threatened populations in the province, five are located in the Coast to Cascade region of southwest B.C. Within that, less than 100 bears inhabit four regions combined. That includes the Garabaldi-Pitt region were Whistler and Squamish lie, which is home to just three grizzly bears, and the Pemberton area’s Squamish-Lillooet region which is home to 59.
By working with governments, First Nations, and local communities, the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Project hopes to raise public awareness about steps government can take to protect and recover the grizzly bear populations.