Grizzly bear kill quota increases in Canada27/03/2014 12:56:19
March 2014: As British Columbia prepares for its annual spring grizzly bear hunting season, researchers are protesting that the hunting quotas put in place by the province are too high.
The British Columbia Government has cited that some sub-populations of bears have recovered, and therefore has opened up areas that have been closed to hunting, increasing the grizzly bear kill quota from 1,700 to 1,800. This is based on estimations by the Government of a population of around 13,000 to 14,000 grizzlies.
However, biologist at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the University of Victoria Paul Paquet argues that the data that has informed these estimates is inaccurate, as the methods used to collect it are outdated. Bear numbers are calculated by various techniques such as aerial surveys and traps that snag hairs of passing bears. “In many cases [the population estimate] will be based on assumptions that are maybe 10 years old,” explains Paquet, “None of this is easy, obviously. But we need to take account of the uncertainties.” Due to the way in which the data is collected, Paquet believes that the bear population could be as low as 8,000, or higher than 15,000.
Based on their findings the British Columbia Government has set a ‘maximum allowable mortality rate’ of 6 per cent of the grizzly population per year. However this mortality rate, put forward researchers, doesn’t take into account deaths by unnatural causes, such as road accidents and hunting, meaning that more bears die than the 6 per cent quoted by the Government, leading to ‘overkills’. In order to reduce the risk of overkills to a safe level, the researchers conclude that there needs to be an 81 per cent reduction of the target. “Because these are long-lived, slow-reproducing populations, they don’t necessarily recover from overkill,” Paquet explains.
Paquet along with Kyle Artelle – a conservation ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada – co-authored a letter sent to Science last week. A total of four leading scientific researchers, including Artelle and Paquet, have signed a letter questioning the province’s estimates and expanded killing zones. The concerned researchers also spoke to the journal Nature in an attempt to open the quota to debate and raise awareness of the issue.
Although the grizzly bear is listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act in the United States, it is not listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, and is not protected by the Canadian Government. British Columbia boasts a quarter of the population of all North American grizzlies, however the bear’s habitat in certain areas may be under threat. The province does have protected areas, including the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, but this area is under pressure from firms exploring the possibility of implementing a pipeline here. In the Purcell Mountains, there are plans to build a giant ski resort near the Jumbo Pass, which would threaten the north-south migration of the grizzlies.
Read our Field guide to grizzlies here, which has details on their habitat, threats, diet, and where to see them in the wild.