Province urged to boost protection of threatened grizzly populations in southwestern B.C.

A new coalition of environmental groups is urging the B.C. government to do more to protect threatened grizzly populations in southwestern B.C.

The Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative is asking the province to better protect grizzlies from human-caused deaths and further loss and fragmentation of their habitat.

Since 2006, humans have killed three breeding age females in the Stein-Nahatlatch region, where there are only an estimated 24 grizzlies — and no official hunting season — the group says. At least two were shot as threats to people or property.

“In such small grizzly populations every bear is critically important, particularly females,” Allen McEwan of the Pemberton Wildlife Association said in a statement Tuesday. “Each dead female means that all her potential offspring are also lost — the very animals that will help these populations recover.”

The initiative aims to save local grizzlies by promoting measures to avoid human-bear conflict and additional habitat destruction while encouraging environmentally responsible development.

It notes that grizzly populations in southwestern B.C. suffer from isolation due to human fragmentation of their habitat through mining, forestry, hydroelectric projects, tourism, agriculture and settlement.

Among other members of the initiative include the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Sierra Club BC, Conservation Northwest, BC Nature, and Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.

The initiative is urging the government to complete and implement grizzly bear management and recovery plans for the most imminently threatened grizzly bear populations before they decline any further or disappear altogether.

Southwestern B.C. is home to only an estimated 91 grizzlies, or about half a percentage of the provincial total: in addition to the Stein-Nahatlatch, there are an estimated 59 in the Squamish-Lillooet area, six in the North Cascades, and two in Garibaldi-Pitt.

Add the South Chilcotin Ranges (203) and Toba Inlet-Bute Inlet (116), and the total is 410, less than three per cent of the B.C. total.

A 2012 report by the provincial government estimated there are 15,075 grizzly bears in B.C.

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