Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative launched
A coalition of conservation groups this week launched an initiative to prevent the disappearance of grizzly bears and rebuild their populations in southwestern B.C...The effort includes support from the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the Sierra Club of B.C., Conservation Northwest, B.C. Nature and other, local conservation groups from Lillooet, Pemberton and Whistler.
A coalition of conservation groups this week launched an initiative to prevent the disappearance of grizzly bears and rebuild their populations in southwestern B.C.
The Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative, launched in a statement issued on Tuesday (Sept. 24), aims to boost prospects for the iconic bears' long-term survival in a broad portion of the province from the South Chilcotin to the Washington border at the east end of the Fraser Valley and including the Sea to Sky Corridor.
The initiative's aim is to “to protect and recover threatened grizzly bears and safeguard adequate habitat in southwest B.C. through science-based planning and community involvement,” the statement said.
The effort includes support from the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the Sierra Club of B.C., Conservation Northwest, B.C. Nature and other, local conservation groups from Lillooet, Pemberton and Whistler. Its framers say the recommendations in the 2008 Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan and a resolution recently adopted by the local St'at'imc First Nations, mandating grizzly bear recovery in their traditional territory, serve as a basis for the initiative.
“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,” Johnny Mikes, field coordinator for the initiative, said in a statement.
Grizzly bears are listed as threatened in southwestern B.C. for a variety of reasons: fragmentation of their habitat by increasing levels of human activity, bear mortality resulting from road collisions, poachings and/or accidental shootings, and lack of connectivity between different patches of habitat, preventing the population in one area from moving freely and breeding with those outside their immediate home range.
The bears mostly live in remote valleys with little human activity, Mikes told The Chief. During the early spring, when mother bears are raising their young, it's important that human contact be minimized. That's also true in the fall when the bears are busy fattening up for winter hibernation, he said.
“Grizzly bears generally don't like to be around human-disturbed areas, so we need to ensure that we don't disturb them any more than necessary,” he said.
The building of new roads into prime grizzly bear habitat is one way grizzly bear habitat becomes fragmented. However, that doesn't mean foresters and others can't build new roads — just that it needs to be done outside the critical times. As well, while logging activity can result in fragmentation of habitat patches, responsible forestry practices can minimize the impact of that fragmentation and can, in some cases, increase the amount of forage available to the bears, Mikes said.
“Where logging practices can be done to enhance understory berry crops, that needs to be looked at,” he said, adding that leaving tree “screens” between roads and logged areas is another way to ensure that the bears have ample cover.
The area covered by the initiative is broken down into five regions: the South Chilcotin Ranges, the Stein-Nahatlatch, the Squamish-Lillooet, the Garibaldi-Pitt and the North Cascades. Each region requires a different plan based on consultation with communities, stakeholders and First Nations, Mikes said.
Locally, Highway 99 serves as the boundary between the Squamish-Lillooet region north and west of Squamish and the Garibaldi Pitt to the east. Biologists estimate that the Squamish-Lillooet region, which stretches north and west of Pemberton, includes 59 bears that mostly inhabit remote valleys such as the Soo, Callaghan and Elaho.
In some cases, the bears have quite large home ranges, Mikes said. One radio-collared bear was recently tracked as far north as the Ryan River near Pemberton and southward to the Upper Squamish, he said.
It's estimated that the Garibaldi-Pitt area has just three bears, the Stein-Nahatlatch 23 and the North Cascades just six. In each region, Mikes said, it's important that management planning take the numbers into account, he said.
“It could mean augmentation at the eastern end of the region,” he said.
Since 2006, B.C. government statistics show that three breeding-aged females have been killed from a population of just 24 bears in the Stein-Nahatlatch region — an area with no hunting season for grizzlies.
“In such small grizzly populations, every bear is critically important, particularly females,” said Allen McEwan, president of the Pemberton Wildlife Association. “Each dead female means that all her potential offspring are also lost – the very animals that will help these populations recover.”
Said Joan Snyder of B.C. Nature, “Grizzly bears are excellent indicators of a healthy ecosystem, and by ensuring the survival of the grizzly we also look after thousands of other plants and animals that live alongside it.”
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