Grizzly Bears Face Starvation Amid Shrinking Salmon Populations and Habitat Concerns in B.C.

Grizzly bear. PHOTO: GETTY

Prominent wildlife biologist and renowned bear expert, Wayne McCrory, has raised grave concerns about grizzly bears on British Columbia’s south coast. The alarming sight of these iconic bears starving due to diminishing salmon populations is drawing national attention.

Habitat Degradation at the Forefront

Grizzlies have found themselves increasingly cornered as industrial activities continue to fragment the vital landscapes they rely on. McCrory highlighted that the science behind this is compelling, indicating that urgent habitat protection measures are imperative. “The science is crying out for greater habitat protections as industrial activities eat away at the landscapes the bears depend on,” McCrory stated.

He went on to emphasize the urgency of the situation, saying, “There’s a huge amount of protection work that needs to be done that isn’t happening, so you can say it’s in a crisis mode.”

Controversial Stewardship Plan

The province’s recent draft plan aimed at addressing grizzly management is under scrutiny. Critics like McCrory argue that it barely touches on the root issue: habitat loss. Such negligence could be “disastrous” for the grizzlies. “The plan is fuzzy around the edges, without any way of really moving forward to get the on-the-ground habitat protection changes that grizzly bears need today if we’re going to have them around 50 or 100 years from now,” he commented.

An open letter, bearing the signatures of over 50 scientists, conservation groups, and advocates, recently sent to provincial officials supports this sentiment. Issued by Pacific Wild, the letter points out how the new plan seemingly downplays the threats arising from habitat fragmentation due to logging, road building, and other industrial activities, all amidst the looming challenges of climate change.

Federal vs. Provincial Action

In 2018, the federal government classified grizzly bears as a “special concern” under the Species at Risk Act. This move followed recommendations made six years earlier by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The listing was anticipated to spark a requirement for government strategies to safeguard the species against the looming threat of endangerment.

However, according to McCrory, such a crucial plan for the B.C. grizzlies remains non-existent.

Cody Bilben was getting ready to hike at Elbow Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on Oct. 2 when he saw a grizzly barrel down the highway chasing bighorn sheep.

Seeking a Comprehensive Solution

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston responded to the concerns, emphasizing the province’s commitment to ensuring the survival of the grizzlies. “The purpose of the framework and strategy is to engage with First Nations, scientists, and the public on supporting grizzly bears and their habitat, to ensure we continue to have a thriving population for years to come,” Ralston commented in a statement.

McCrory suggests that in addition to larger protected areas, the estimated 15,000 grizzlies in B.C. require smaller, continuous habitats linking salmon streams, healthy forests, berry patches, and denning spots in the mountains.

B.C.’s auditor general had previously critiqued the provincial approach to grizzly bear management in 2017, emphasizing that human activity degrading their habitat was a more significant threat than hunting, which has since been mostly prohibited.

Potential Conflicts and the Path Forward

While the draft stewardship framework promotes the development of local plans initiated by provincial wildlife staff and First Nations, McCrory expresses apprehension. He fears that these local teams could be influenced by hunting interests, leading to a dilution of effective measures.

Wrapping up his concerns, McCrory reiterated the complexities surrounding the issue. “I grew up in the Slocan Valley and I’ve worked with many wildlife and conservation groups throughout B.C. and I just know how the backwoods politics works when it comes to conflicts and the grizzly bear trophy hunting,” he concluded.

Minister Ralston clarified that the province isn’t considering revoking the hunting ban and emphasized the continuous constitutional right of First Nations to hunt the bears for food, social, and ceremonial reasons.